restricted access Chapter 9: The Singaporean "Diaspora" Landscape: Nation and Extraterritoriality
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158 9 The Singaporean “Diaspora” Landscape: Nation and Extraterritoriality Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho Introduction Nearly 200,000 Singaporeans live overseas according to a population policy report published in 2011 (National Population and Talent Division 2011). Politicians and the media refer regularly to this group of overseas Singaporeans as the “Singapore diaspora”. What are the connotations of the label “diaspora”? How is it related to landscape? Why is the diaspora important to nation-states like Singapore? These are the issues that will be examined in this chapter on the Singaporean diaspora landscape. Diaspora describes “a connection between groups across different nation states whose commonality derives from an original but maybe removed homeland” (Anthias 1998: 558). These globally dispersed populations cohere around a new identity that is derived from their perceptions of a shared homeland, a common history and collective values. Earlier discussions of diaspora were limited to groups who had been forcibly removed from their  Refer to Table 1.2 in Cohen’s revised edition of the book, Global Diasporas (2008), which provides an accessible introduction to the literature on diaspora. 09 C-Landscapes.indd 158 7/30/13 10:37:12 AM The Singaporean “Diaspora” Landscape 159 homelands, such as the Jewish diaspora or the Palestinian diaspora. Cohen (2008: 160), for example, categorises such groups as “victim diasporas”. However, in its contemporary usage the label, “diaspora”, is invoked in broader ways (Brubaker 2005) by nation-states that are interested in mobilising their diasporas to achieve nation-building goals. Diasporas are created by cross-border transnational migration as people move from one part of the world to settle elsewhere while still retaining ties with their homelands. Transnationalism studies are distinct from earlier migration theories that assumed a linear trajectory in which migrants uproot and transplant themselves fully into another community, thus maintain­ ing involvement in only one community at a time. Rather, transnationalism studies proposed that migrants maintain multiple attachments and relations with their countries of origin and settlement simultaneously (see Ho 2008). While the field of transnationalism studies is distinct from diaspora studies in many respects, new trends suggest that they are converging in specific ways such as the state-led diaspora strategies that target transnational communities claimed by particular nation-states. This chapter uses the case of Singapore to illustrate this argument. The research findings in this chapter are drawn from qualitative fieldwork conducted amongst overseas Singaporeans in London and an analysis of newspaper reports, government speeches and policies related to migration trends in Singapore. The qualitative fieldwork includes semi-structured interviews with 43 overseas Singaporeans and ethnographic observation at formal and informal social events amongst the Singaporean community in London. This chapter focuses on, first, the manner in which diasporas are connected to our earlier discussions on nationhood and territory (refer to Chapters 1 and 2). The discussion troubles our understandings of nationhood and territory by considering the impacts of transnational migration, especially the significance of emigration flows for creating diaspora landscapes. The second section considers the evolving rhetoric tied to Singaporean emigration, signalling changes in attitudes towards the acceptability of transnational migration. The third section examines the ways in which the Singaporean diaspora landscape is materialised through the extraterritorial initiatives of Singaporean political leaders and policymakers aimed at promoting a sense of national identity and community abroad. The penultimate section questions some of the assumptions underpinning such strategies and the ways in which overseas Singaporeans contest such initiatives on claims of nationhood and national identity. 09 C-Landscapes.indd 159 7/30/13 10:37:13 AM Elaine Lynn-Ee Ho 160 Nation, Territory and Diaspora The imaginary of the nation is often attached to a physical space known as a territory. Yet as Benedict Anderson (1991: 6–7) argues, the nation can be seen as an imagined political community in several respects: • Members will never have face-to-face contact with one another even though they identify as part of a national community. • Nations invoke a deep horizontal comradeship in spite of actual inequalities and exploitations that are contained within the community. • Nations are marked by finite boundaries differentiating one nation from another, thus implicating territory-making processes and claims to sovereignty. Where such claims to territory and sovereignty are recognised officially by international law and other international actors, that political community is conferred statehood, or known as a nation-state (refer to Chapter 1). The idea of diaspora is premised upon claims to nationhood but not all nations are considered states, such as in the...


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