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'They Give us the Categories and We Fill Ourselves in' Ethnic Thinking in Singapore

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This paper will demonstrate the prevalence of 'ethnic thinking' in everyday life and the role which culture plays in defining individuals and groups in Singapore. I will argue that the Singapore state has intentionally created a national identity which rests on the idea of the assumed purity of the different ethnic groups which exist within that nation. Singpore's multi-racial policies force the heterogeneous character of the population into four 'races' and there are no officially recognised inter-ethnic individuals within the state. The official promotion of 'ethnic' culture which claims that ethnic identity and culture are somehow identical results in a culture of stereotypes which shapes everyday life - where people live and how they interact as neighbours, for example. The stereotypes are reinforced by religious festivals. While state support of ethnic differentiation has helped to prevent ethnic violence, the politicisation of ethnic identity may ironically encourage conflict in the future when ethnic and economic divisions coincide.

Affiliations: 1: Research Officer, Institute of Cultural Studies, Essen, Germany


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