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Kinship, Ethnic Segregation and Multiculturalism in Singapore: A Relational Study

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The question of inter-ethnic integration and segregation in multicultural societies has been characterised by remarkable tensions at the level of public and scholarly debate between optimists who see 'good' inter-ethnic relations and pessimists who see 'bad' ones. In reality, the ethnic situation in multicultural societies is often more nuanced than these labels suggest. Using personal network analysis applied to a segment of Singapore society, I show that estimates of interethnic contact are highly-contingent upon a range of methodological and social factors. Substantively, I discuss how inter-ethnic interactions may often be hampered by in-group pressures arising from kinship relations. In practice, where 'keeping family' often means 'keeping ethnicity', kinship pre-eminence in everyday life tends to suppress inter-ethnic friendship in intimate regions of personal networks. By contrast, inter-ethnic integration is more readily seen in outer regions of personal networks, suggesting that 'multiculturalism' is, in practice, a form of society based on weak ties rather than strong bonds.

Affiliations: 1: University of Toronto


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