TAPSA: Seeing (or Perceiving) Race in Multiracial Singapore: Toward a Semiotics of Looking

January 13, 2022 - 5:00pm

Virtual Event

TAPSA: Joshua Babcock, PhD Candidate in Anthropology, The University of Chicago 

This talk explores how perceptions of person-types in Singapore are mediated by a visual epistemology of race. Shaped by colonial and postcolonial legacies, visual perception is both talked about and implicitly projected as a privileged, transparent modality for racial knowing in the Southeast Asian island city-state. The talk examines evidence from media artifacts, online commentary, and informal interactions. Babcock analyzes the visual epistemology of race as one phase in semiotic processes of looking: multimodal assemblages through which language, institutional categories, and aesthetics of person-types come to mediate and be mediated by vision. Babcock argues that, despite the ideological primacy and attributed transparency of vision as a modality for perceiving race in Singapore, vision is mediated through looking—through historically- and culturally structured signs in nonvisual modalities that interactionally supplement and supplant vision without ultimately undermining the visual epistemology of race as a default structure of looking.

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