TAPSA: Singapore’s Counter-Colonial Aesthetics: The Semiotic Sink of the Westernized Enemy Within

January 12, 2023-5pm

Foster Hall 103

Wee Yang Soh, PhD Student, Department of Anthropology  

Within sociopolitical discourse in modern Singapore, comparisons with Western powers, primarily the USA and the UK, have become de rigueur. Such comparisons have spanned discussions about race and minority rights, state management and policing, social activism, education, business and industry. However, rather than treating Singapore as fundamentally different from the West, this paper is interested in how axes of difference between the West and Singapore are vivified such that they motivate social and moral judgments on a wide range of contemporary sociopolitical issues in Singapore. Borrowing from the linguistic anthropological concept of aesthetic textuality that considers images broadly as perduring patterns of signs, I am interested in dissecting what I call “counter-colonial aesthetics”: how the colonial West is sensed, represented, and experienced by Singaporean actors that then anticipates and justifies a reactionary politics. It is important to note that the term “counter-colonial” is positioned not as a synonym but as contrast to the term “decolonization” to highlight how a counter-colonial aesthetics paradoxically grounds Singapore’s governance in forms of colonial power that prescribes value to some categories of people while silencing others.