Contours of Culture

Space and Social Difference in Singapore


Robbie B. H. Goh

ISBN : 978-962-209-731-5

Cultural Studies, Gender Studies

March 2005

272 pages, 6″ x 9″

  • HK$275.00

This volume discusses the urban history and cultural landscape of Singapore in relation to theories of textual dialogics, multiculturalism and the cultural and political unconscious. Multidisciplinary in approach, it takes as its data not only government policy and official discourses, and the more quantitative elements of population census information on religion, income, race and nationality, but also a wide range of related cultural discourses in film, literature, media texts, social behaviour and other interventions and interpretations of the city. The main parameters of Singapore’s socio-national construction—public housing, social elitism, racial and linguistic plurality and their management, colonial remnants and their transformation—are explained and analysed in terms of Singapore’s colonial past, its rapid modernization, and its current push to compete as a global city and tourist destination.

This multidisciplinary book should be of interest to a correspondingly wide readership, including architects and urban planners, political scientists, cultural analysts and theorists, colonial discourse scholars, urban geographers and sociologists, Asian studies specialists, graduate and undergraduate students in the above areas, and a general readership interested in cities and cultures.

Robbie Goh is Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English Language and Literature of the National University of Singapore. Educated at the National University of Singapore and the University of Chicago, he is the author of Sparks of Grace: The Story of Methodism in Asia, the co-editor (with Brenda S. A. Yeoh) of Theorizing the Southeast Asian City as Text, the co-editor (with Shawn Wong) of Asian Diasporas: Cultures, Identities, Representations, and the author of numerous articles on urban and Asian cultures, and Anglophone literatures.

“This is a remarkable book. By taking a series of readings of Singapore’s urban culture, it chronicles the emergence of a new city form which, through the coming together of quite particular narratives of modernity, nationhood and identity may well be providing a much more general spatial model for Asian cities. Simultaneously, it provides a gripping account of how to read the possibilities and tensions that this model throws up.” —Nigel J. Thrift, Oxford University

“Goh’s theoretically sophisticated and creative analysis of Singapore’s society, space and culture and his brilliant critique of the city’s official policies of self-representation is a marvellous tour de force. An astute urban semiotician and interpreter of cultural signs, Goh draws on films, figures and fiction to provide a fascinating reading of a city preparing for global competition. Questions of ethnicity, class, sexuality, national identity, architecture and space are brought together in an imaginative—as well as provocative—exercise of symbolic explication and analysis. Essential for studies of Asian urbanism and a model for students of the (so-called) ‘global city’.” —Anthony King, State University of New York at Binghamton

“In Contours of Culture Robbie Goh has achieved what many specialists in cultural studies have attempted only metaphorically, by successfully fusing the materiality of spatiality with the symbolic realm of cultural processes. The result is an absorbing and nuanced interpretation of the meaning of the landscapes of Singapore, where space serves as a text that reflects and reproduces the political cultures of a global city in a state of constant re-invention.” —David Ley, University of British Columbia, Canada