restricted access Chapter 2: Heritage Landscapes and Nation-Building in Singapore
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25 Heritage Landscapes and Nation-Building in Singapore Hamzah Muzaini Introduction In an era of globalisation, as nations become less insular and people increasingly mobile, forging identities that connect people to place has become more challenging than before. This chapter highlights how heritage is mobilised in Singapore to fulfil this objective. After discussing key concepts and providing an account of heritage conservation in Singapore, the chapter draws upon the examples of historic districts and landscapes of war commemoration to illustrate the way heritage is used as material and ideological capital to bind people to territory as well as cultivate national attachments. The chapter then focuses on how this process is fraught with tensions particularly when heritage is used as ballast against rampant modernisation and urban growth in a country that is not only constrained by history and geography, but also facing the challenges of achieving global aspirations. The chapter concludes with prospects for further research. Heritage, Nation-Building and Landscape Politics Heritage may be defined as a legacy of the past existing within contemporary times that society wishes to preserve for the benefit of the present as well 2 02 C-Landscapes.indd 25 7/30/13 10:17:21 AM Hamzah Muzaini 26 as to pass on to future generations. It includes both tangible (e.g. built environment and material artefacts) as well as intangible elements (e.g. social practices, myths and legends). Far from existing a priori, heritage is accorded significance if and only if society deems it as valuable. As Graham (2002: 1004) puts it, “if heritage is the contemporary use of the past, and if its meanings are defined in the present, then we create the heritage that we require” (my emphasis). Many scholars have focused on the ways in which heritage is appropriated spatially for the purpose of constructing the nation, or what Benedict Anderson (1983) refers to as an “imagined community” (refer to Chapter 1). Among others, heritage serves to reflect a shared past, portray heroic acts as historical inspiration, or manifest ideals that those in power wish for the nation to internalise (Ashworth 2003; Timothy and Boyd 2006). As discussed in the introductory chapter, individuals and groups in power, such as the state, manipulate landscapes as spatial and material expressions of ideological objectives. The concretisation of heritage onto public space not only allows it to be visually perceived but also made accessible to the general public to learn from and “access” the messages they represent. Yet, as Timothy and Boyd (2006: 3) remind us, “there is no such thing as a single history”, as each view of the past and each way of presenting it within the present is subjective and will vary between different individuals and groups. In privileging one vision or version of heritage, other narratives consequently fall on the wayside (or, worse, become erased), particularly those perceived as controversial, mundane or undermining state objectives. As such, far from being a true depiction of the past, heritage as represented through landscapes is partial, serving the needs of the present while ensuring aspects that do not align themselves with dominant narratives are de-emphasised or even written out of official history (ibid.). The extent to which such projects may attain ideological purchase, however, depends on whether the people for whom they are intended buy into them. If people are not convinced of the messages the state seeks to forward via its heritage landscapes, the selection of a particular past as national history may not gain popular acceptance (Graham 2002). Contestations towards these landscapes can emerge from within or outside of the territorial boundaries of the nation. They often arise with respect to questions over what to conserve of the past, for what, by and for whom, which may be further vexed by contentions over historical facts, ethnicity or other divisive fault lines of society. Challenges may also arise when conservation contradicts 02 C-Landscapes.indd 26 7/30/13 10:17:21 AM Heritage Landscapes and Nation-Building in Singapore 27 economic imperatives such as promoting tourism and maintaining global competitiveness. After providing a background to heritage conservation in Singapore, the rest of the chapter discusses the way historic districts and war commemoration landscapes are mobilised in the service of nation-building for the city-state and the tensions resulting from such policies. Shifting Sands of Heritage Conservation in Singapore With the exception of the Preservation of Monuments Board (PMB), formed in 1971 to gazette monuments worthy of preservation, the conservation of...


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