- Singapore's Multiracialism: Evolving Diversity by Chan Heng Chee and Sharon Siddique
The multicultural quality of Singapore society has always been one of its outstanding characteristics; indeed, perhaps its main one. A great deal of scholarly ink and political discussion has been expended on discussing, worrying about and attempting to manage this diversity and the potential problems—especially of inter-ethnic conflict—that it poses, in what is furthermore a very small and densely settled country, but also one deeply integrated into the global economy, with [End Page 392] the attendant social and cultural pressures that this brings. This book is a detailed account of the origins and evolution of this diversity, and a detailed discussion, albeit rather speculative, of probable or possible future trends. Read as the former, it is a fairly comprehensive guide to the literature on Singapore's multiculturalism, and read as the latter, as a projection, based both on the literature and on extensive focus group and individual discussions with a range of Singapore citizens and long-term residents. Hitherto, much of the discussion of Singapore's sociology has been built around the 'CIMO' model—the idea that the country is basically made up of four main ethnic groups, the Chinese, Indian, Malay and 'Others', the latter comprising a heterogeneous mix of Filipinos, Arabs, Indonesians, Europeans, Eurasians and stray others. A great deal of social policy and political energy has been devoted to managing this situation and ensuring as far as possible convivial and frictionless relations between the four groups.
However, the relative stability of this situation, largely in place since independence in 1965 and even before, has been disturbed by many emerging factors. These include both in-migration, discussed in detail here, and out-migration, unfortunately given little attention in this book, which is a pity precisely because it is an indicator of the perceived stresses of the CIMO model, particularly among the 'Others' such as Eurasians, Jews, Peranakan Chinese and to some extent Indians. But other subtler factors are also in play—including changing perceptions of the significance of ethnicity as a marker of identity among younger Singaporeans, the ageing of the society (to some extent offset by in-migration), exposure to global cultures, and the spread, or now rooting, of diverse religions in a very spatially small society. The entire economy of Singapore is dependent on its integration into the global economy, and with it, travel, tourism—both in- and outbound—education and the presence in the country of highly internationalized universities and art schools. The very high Internet connectivity in Singapore shows clearly the porousness of its boundaries. Partly through its emphasis methodologically on "grounded theory" and the manifestation of this in the focus [End Page 393] group data collected, the book does show the changing attitudes of Singaporeans to the factors that influence their identity, both positive and negative—a weakening sense of racial differences, high rates of interethnic marriage, religion, and a growing sense of belonging simply as an effect of the passing years since independence, balanced by more negative ones such as resentment at the high number of foreigners now living in the country and the fear that this will take away jobs, drive up property prices and make inter-group communication difficult because of language and cultural differences. The book is rich on data on all these factors and more, and through the "personas" (the fictional figures of varying ages and ethnicities) with which the book concludes, presents a range of possible futures based on the evidence collected from the focus group discussions.
There are also some areas in which I think that the discussion in this rich and highly documented book could have been deepened. It is weak on the theorization of the key idea of multiculturalism, identifying it essentially simply with the multiracial CIMO model, whereas in fact this is a highly contested concept. Another vital missing area is that of class. The authors sidestep this by noting that it would take another study, although there is...