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Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore

Power Relations and the Urban Built Environment

Brenda S.A. Yeoh

Publication Year: 2013

In the British colonial city of Singapore, municipal authorities and Asian communities faced off over numerous issue. As the city expanded, disputes arose in connection with sanitation, housing, street names, control over pedestrian “five-foot-ways”, and sacred spaces such as burial grounds. Brenda Yeoh’s Contesting Space in Colonial Singapore details these conflicts and how they shaped the city. The British administration structured the private and public environments of the city with an eye toward shaping human behaviour, following scientific principles and the lessons of urban planning in other parts of the world. For the Asian communities, Singapore was the place where they lived according to their own values, priorities and resources. The two perceptions of the city frequently clashed, and the author reads the cityscape of Singapore as the result of this contest between discipline and resistance. Drawing on meticulous research and a theoretically sophisticated use of cultural and social geography, post-colonial historical discourse, and social theory, the author offers a compelling picture of a critical stage in Singapore's past. It is an important contribution to the study of colonial cities and an indispensable resource for understanding the shape of modern Singapore.

Published by: NUS Press Pte Ltd

Cover Page

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pp. 1-2

Title Page

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pp. 3-8

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pp. ix-x

With the re-issue of this book, the trail of debt has lengthened considerably since the writing of the first acknowledgements. Research is ultimately a humanized activity, dependent first and foremost on human connectivity and ingenuity. I am...

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Acknowledgements to the First Edition

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pp. xi-xvi

...stimulated and shaped some of the ideas which eventually found their way into the book, as well as for efficiently supervising the 'everyday' aspects of research. I am also grateful to my advisers at the School of Geography, David Harvey and Ceri Peach, and other staff members of the University, including Alisdair Rogers and Peter Carey for advice and direction...


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pp. xiii-xvi


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pp. xvii-xviii


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pp. xix-xx


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pp. xxi-xxii


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pp. xxiii-23


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pp. xxiv-xxv

Note on Currency, Chinese Names and Terms

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pp. xxvi-26

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Chapter 1: Power Relations and the Built Environment in Colonial Cities

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pp. 1-27

THE morphology and development of Third World colonial cItles have been enduring geographical research concerns over the last three decades, but as David Simon observed in a stock-taking effort, 'much of the published evidence is fragmentary and purely empirical, thereby rendering the important socio-scientific tasks of...

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Chapter 2: Establishing an Institution of Control over the Urban Built Environment: The Municipal Authority of Singapore, 1819-1930

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pp. 28-78

THE conception and establishment of a separate municipal authority based on popular representation to run local urban affairs in Singapore was a distinctively British experiment. The municipal authority was an integral part of the colonial power structure (Figure 2.1) and served as an institution of control over the built environment of the colonial city. Its historical evolution from embryonic committees with specific municipal functions appointed...

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Part I: Sanitizing the Private Environment

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pp. 79-84

AN emerging theme in current research into the health conditions of colonial societies has been the concern not so much with disease and medicine as purely epidemiological or medical phenomena, but with their instrumentality: that is, with their role in 'describing a relationship of power and authority between rulers and the ruled and between colonialism's constituent...

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Chapter 3: Municipal Sanitary Surveillance, Asian Resistance, and the Control of the Urban Environment

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pp. 85-135

AT the heart of the colonialist's concern with sanitation lay the fundamental issues of demography: that is, population, morbidity, and mortality. From the perspective of the colonial administrator, this had two aspects. First, it involved the question of 'the continued vigour and vitality of the [European] race when transplanted from temperate to torrid zones'.3 At the height of Empire...

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Chapter 4: Shaping the Built Form of the City: From the Regulation of House Form to Urban Planning

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pp. 136-174

THE (largely unwritten) history of working-class housing in nineteenthand early twentieth-century Singapore has mainly been approached as a descriptive exercise tracing the efforts of the authorities to solve what were perceived as 'housing problems'.3 The view taken is often from the vantage point of the town planner rather...

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Chapter 5: Municipal Versus Asian Utilities Systems: Urban Water Supply and Sewage Disposal

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pp. 175-212

By the beginning of the twentieth century, the municipal agenda of measures to render the urban environment clean and orderly had become increasingly broad and complex. The preceding chapter concentrated on municipal attempts to enforce the spatial rearrangement of urban built form as a strategy of improvement to combat urban malaise and disease. Another strategy...

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Part II: Ordering the Public Environment

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pp. 213-218

THE earlier chapters (3-5) have largely, though not exclusively,focused on the private, domestic environment as the object of medicaldiscourse and the arena of conflict between the municipal authoritiesand the Asian communities. The cubicle, the latrine, other interioraspects of the Asian house as well as the people who inhabited and...

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Chapter 6: The Naming and Signification of Urban Space: Municipa versus Asian Street-names and Place-names

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pp. 219-242

IN colonial Singapore, the municipal authorities were empowered to establish a network of street- and place-names to facilitate the identification, demarcation, and differentiation of the urban built environment for the purposes of colonial rule. From the early days of the Settlement, Stamford Raffles decreed that 'each street should receive some appropriate name' and that it was...

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Chapter 7: The Control of 'Public' Space: Conflicts over the Definition and Use of the Verandah

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pp. 243-280

By the end of the nineteenth century, the municipal authorities of Singapore expressed increasing concern that the ethos of laissez-faire which had hitherto prevailed in the use of public spaces within the city was threatening to undermine the city's public health, security and social order. The late nineteenth century saw the strengthening of municipal determination to impose standards of acceptable behaviour and permissible activities in public...

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Chapter 8: The Control of 'Sacred' Space: Conflicts over the Chinese Burial Grounds

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pp. 281-311

IN traditional societies, a sense of the 'sacred' is often inherent in the form of the urban built environment, which in turn, cannot be understood apart from the 'mythical-magical concern with place'.3 According to Mircea Eliade, the act of settlement itself is perceived as a reenactment of the mythical creation of the world. 4 Ancient Indian cities were designed according...

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Chapter 9: Conclusion: The Politics of Space in Colonial Singapore

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pp. 312-316

THE specific line of enquiry and the questions posed in the preceding chapters have focused on interrogating the negotiation of power between the municipal authorities and the Asian communities in shaping, representing, and using the urban built environment in colonial Singapore. This is a critical area in which the self-interest of the authorities concerned with creating a sanitary and orderly city and that of the Asian communities bent...


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pp. 317-322


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pp. 323-345


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pp. 346-351

E-ISBN-13: 9789971697679
Print-ISBN-13: 9789971692681

Page Count: 396
Illustrations: 21 tables, 39 figures, 31 images
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: Reprint