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Taking group rights seriously: Multiracialism in Singapore

Chua, B.H. (2005) Taking group rights seriously: Multiracialism in Singapore. Murdoch University. Asia Research Centre.

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For the past close to two decades, the idea of multiculturalism has been popular with two sets of intellectuals in the West, namely political philosophers and Cultural Studies scholars who think that cultural rights of minority groups are worth and need to be protected against domination and erasure by dominant cultures. Both groups are motivated by concerns of the need to redress the histories of erasure or suppression of cultures of minority groups in the developed societies of the West; ‘minority’ is thus extended beyond ethnic and racial groups to others who are marginalized, such as gender and sexual minorities. This concern with redressing past oppressions are tied to the liberalism of both groups of concerned scholars, who see the issue ultimately as one of civil and human rights. One would expect that the issues related to multiculturalism would take on different shapes and contours in a context where liberalism in not the prevailing social and political norm, such as Singapore.

In contrast to Western settler nations, such as Canada, Australia and the United States of America, where ‘official multiculturalism’ is generally involve supporting voluntary cultural activities undertaken by the ethnic groups themselves and to police racial discrimination and racism, in Singapore, multiracialism is written into the Constitution in the very founding moment of the nation in 1965; the Constitution declared that Singapore is a multiracial nation with equality for the three primary races – Chinese, Malays and Indians. Since then multiracialism has been embedded as the core rationale for many public policies. While ostensibly aimed at ‘preserving’ the cultures of the racial groups and maintaining racial harmony, the same public policies are, as shall be argued in this paper, also by the same token policies of social control.

Item Type: Working Paper
Series Name: Working Paper. Asia Research Centre No. 124
Publisher: Murdoch University. Asia Research Centre
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