30 Jun 2005

Paths Not Taken

I first spotted the links to the following at Singapore Angle.

This is a project of the QUT Centre for Social Change Research (CSCR).

The project aims to recast Singapore's postwar history by studying the civil and political movements that have operated outside the parameters of imagination created by the ruling People's Action Party. The project draws from disciplines as diverse as history, cultural studies, anthropology, political science, sociology, law, gender and development studies, and architecture, and it studies an equally diverse range of ‘paths not taken’: party and activist politics; trade unions; commercial and professional organisations; social, intellectual, ethnic and religious movements, and; the media and service organisations. The project is intended to culminate in an international symposium and an edited book.


Some of the contributions appear very interesting and if I had a very rich guardian angel I would attend.

2. History Spiked: The Death of the Liberal Ideal in Singapore Media
Dr Cherian George


The press system in Singapore up to the 1970s included an adversarial tendencywithin the mainstream press, a contentious alternative press, and a live public discourse on press freedom. This paper will trace the closing off of these paths,leading up to the hegemonic, non-contentious and “nation-building” press system of post-70s Singapore. It will argue that the state achieved this closure not only by overt political repression but also by riding global trends in media economics and intellectual culture, which tended in the direction of industry concentration and commercialisation, at the expense of media diversity and public service.

This explanation for the prevailing media system refutes the cultural arguments that are currently mustered in its defence – that the system is a reflection of Asian values that emphasise consensus and harmony – and argues instead that it was a matter of deliberate political engineering by the PAP regime. Finally, the paper will attempt to locate vestiges of counter-hegemonic practice and discourse within the Singapore media system and assess their potential.

Dr Cherian George is a postdoctoral research fellow at Nanyang Technological University.

Lawyers and Politics: 1945-1990
Dr Kevin Tan
This paper examines the relationship between the legal profession and politics in Singapore from 1945 to 1990. The relationship between law and politics is a close one, especially in the aftermath of World War II and the rapid decolonization within the British Empire. This took on an greater significance given the number of lawyers involved in post-War political developments throughout the Empire. Singapore was no exception and it came as no surprise that the first Chief Minister and Prime Minister of Singapore were both lawyers.

The active role that lawyers played, both individually and collectively – through institutions such as the Bar Committee and its successor, the Law Society, as well as through political parties – in the immediate post-War period contrasts markedly with the relative inactivity of the profession in the 1980s and 1990s. It is also significant that the legal profession provided key political players who spanned the entire political spectrum during the formative years of Singapore’s nationhood. This plurality of views and visions for an independent Singapore was a path that was not taken; a path which could have led to quite a different Singapore.

This paper adopts a chronological approach and is organized in three parts. In Part I, we consider the period from 1945 to 1955, looking at the role lawyers and institutions played in the fight for self-government, and their competing visions for Singapore. In particular, the role of the Progressive Party under CC Tan, the Labour Front under David Marshall and the PAP under Lee Kuan Yew will be compared and contrasted. Part II will consider the developments from 1955 to 1965, the period of transition from the Rendel Constitution to Singapore’s separation from Malaysia. Focus will beon the roles played by Lee Kuan Yew, EW Barker, KM Byrne (from Singapore) and Tunku Abdul Rahman and Tun Razak (from Malaysia) in this whole process. Part III concentrates on the post 1965 developments with discussion on the role of lawyers in the nation-building process. In particular, we will consider how the Law Society tried to find a voice in this process and ended up being crushed. Key figures who will be considered in this period are Francis Seow, Toh Soh Lung. The role played by opposition lawyers like Chiam See Tong will also be discussed in passing. Finally, I will discuss the establishment of the Singapore Academy of Law and how its expanded role has silenced the pluralistic political discourse that saw a brief flowering in the 1980s.

Dr Kevin Tan is a private researcher in Singapore.

Related Link:
Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Postwar Singapore

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