18 February 2015

Living with Myths VII: Discipline and proscribe

Being a review of the 7th in a year-long series of seminars
From HBO's ROME: Julius Caesar surveys a map of the city
Maps and narratives are the product of power/knowledge relations
through discipline of the self and proscription of the body politic

Narratives exist in an "always already" tense; they retroactively over-determine and limit the sum total of competing possibilities and strategies of reading history. Yet without a narrative, there is no subject to be constructed, to be made known, and ultimately deconstructed...

The myth of Singaporeanness: values and identity in Singapore education

Taking the audience through the succession of "moral education", "好公民" (literally: good citizens), "civics", "religious knowledge", and "national education", subjects taught in schools in Singapore, Christine Han's presentation is a rudimentary introduction to the academic critique of citizenship education. That is, the ideas of citizenship and civic-mindedness are the products of discursive formations within the institutions of state-directed education. To simplify even further: social engineering creates the next generation of Singaporeans who believe in a unique and exceptional Singaporean nation and Singaporeanness, and know how to conduct themselves as decent Singaporeans.

Han identifies rigid morality, resorts to prescriptive teaching, and cherrypicking of history as some of the major weaknesses of Singapore's model of citizenship education. Unfortunately without a proper introduction to just what citizenship education is about, or a cross comparison with other countries, it is impossible to say conclusive what Singapore is doing wrong, even if it's easy to say what's so annoying about Singapore's citizenship education efforts.

We would have recommended Yeow-tong Chia, who has actually written several comparative studies on citizenship education, to take this presentation.

Political lawyers: The development and clampdown of the Law Society in the 80s

Teo Soh Lung limits her narrative to the year of 1986, between the election of Francis Seow as Law Society president to Parliament's amendment of the Legal Profession Act to remove the statutory duty of the Law Society to publicly comment on legislation, white papers, and bills.

The tenor of her presentation centres on the dissatisfaction of young lawyers over the lack of open and transparent consultation between the legislative body and the bar association. Given their interpretation of its "statutory duty" and the supermajority of the People's Action Party in government, it appeared that laws were bulldozed through parliament without due consultation with lawyers and legal experts.

The fury of Papalee and his perception of an activist, political Law Society is understandable considering what is known of his philosophy of government. Left unsaid is the fact that the legal profession everywhere else has access to legislators, whether mandated through the charters of bar associations or as a result of activist activity from the lobbying arms of law firms, precisely because of lawyers are experts at legislation and the legislative process.

The banning of a film

Chua Beng-huat offered a sociological analysis of the banning of Tan Pin Pin's To Singapore With Love. Chua posits that the government's response and rhetoric to Tan's film hardened and became more extreme over time (culminating in Minilee's declaration that it was an insult to the people who lost their lives in the struggle against Communism) only because there anti-Communism (i.e. "Socialism that works") is the founding narrative of Singapore, and that the PAP has failed to develop a popular successor ideology to keep itself relevant. Without a new ideology modern Singaporeans can believe in (witness the quick succession of citizenship education models in Singapore!), the PAP is forced to keep alive antiquated enemies, to continue to define itself in oppositional terms to long-defeated enemies.

Chua suggests that the ban is self-defeating and yet inevitable; it jibes with the PR/makeover campaign the PAP has embarked on after losing Aljunied GRC, but yet is the logical endpoint of holding on to an outdated ideology.