Singapore, one of the most globalized nations in the world today, had undergone a series of political and economic crises in the past forcing its leaders to take on a proactive stance to the formation of national identity . One stance the government took was forging a national myth of progress that depicted Singapore’s transformation from a third world fishing village to a first world republic. The catalyze of this metamorphosis was globalization, through globalizing strategies such as: establishing English as the country’s first language; building Singapore’s economy through partnerships with multinational corporations; importing popular culture from over the world; advocating and sending Singaporeans to study abroad; encouraging the immigration of “foreign talent”; and stressing a global orientation rather than a local identity. The embracement of globalization through these strategies has led Singapore to acquire political stability and economic growth. However, they have weakened the country’s social bonds with are critical for pursuing the quest for national identity in Singapore.
Although there are other aspects of Singapore’s national identity, this discussion will focus on the national identity of economic progress because it has a direct correlation with the Republic’s embrace of globalization.
This paper will firstly study the terms globalization and national identity in the context of Singapore. After which, address five issues derived from Singapore’s embracement of globalization that has an ill effect on the republic’s national identity quest.
Firstly, the way in which Singapore practices selective globalization that has led to an antagonistic relationship between local identities and global identities of the people. Secondly, the recognition of Singapore as a global nation state and how that ‘loses’ national identity for future generations. Thirdly, how the influences of popular culture affects Singapore’s national identity adversely. Fourthly, how issues of emigration and immigration have undermined national identity. Fifthly, how Singapore’s declaration as a global city has led to the debilitation of Singapore’s national identity from which the problem of commitment arose. And sixthly, how Singapore’s success story, as a result of globalization, thwarts efforts of cementing the Republic’s national identity.
Singapore’s National Identity
Before we discuss Singapore’s national identity, this paper defines the concept of a nation, in relation to Singapore, as imagined and as a purposeful construct . This is because Singapore does not have a long history. Furthermore, it is populated by a myriad of different ethnicities.
Since independence, the Singaporean government has tried to foster a national identity in Singapore. The aim of this was to unite the heterogeneous immigrant population under the nation-state; in the hope that a uniquely Singaporean identity, which the people could identify with, would emerge.
The Singapore government has placed strong emphasis on creating a material-based national identity through the presence and availability of economic development, home-ownership, asset-enhancement, a high standard of living and modern facilities. This has created a “social modernity” that evokes a sense of Singapore’s national identity in practical and material terms . Hence, the cleanliness of the environment and the efficiency in the background of everyday Singaporean living are qualities the government promotes as Singapore’s national identity and national symbols. Singaporean’s high quality of life as a resultant of globalization and commercial development reemphasizes the national identity of economic progress.
Globalization in the context of Singapore
Many scholars view globalization as a force, which would bring about the decline , erosion or the end of the nation-state. True to this definition, Singapore’s embrace for globalization has created problems by weakening emotional ties and the national identity of the nation. This is demonstrated by: a crippling of social cohesion within the community; a pragmatic attitude of Singaporeans; and an increase number of talented Singaporeans choosing to emigrate.
Although the Singapore government attempts to connect the people under the notion of a national identity that is based on the myth of overcoming adversity, this paper posits that the process of globalization undermines Singapore’s territorial boundaries, the nation’s sovereignty, and its traditional roles, hence undermining the Republic’s national identity quest.
Singapore’s practice of selective globalization
Globalization exposes nation-states to both opportunities and challenges. Singapore has moved from the process of building a nation-state to becoming a global city. The government practices selective globalization where certain forms are encouraged and others are discouraged . While, they champion for the synchronization of regulations and policies with international standards, they protect their society from unwholesome global commodities such as pornographic magazines. On one hand, Singapore enjoys its status as one of the most globalized countries in the world in terms of finance and telecommunications. On the other hand, Singapore regularly gets criticized from international human rights institutions for insisting to practice its own label of politics . The issue of Singapore practicing selective globalization portrays the need to remain globally connected for the sole purpose of survival, while the retention of certain traditional ideals expresses the necessity to protect specific interest.
Long suggests, that the act of cultures globalizing and de-globalizing within localities at the same time is synchronized through local practices; and ideals generated symbols transmitted through the media, whether global or local, are at the forefront of forming a contemporary culture .
This would mean that globalization weakens the building blocks of national identity because of the reinforcement of social relations through messages, images and symbols that would connect individuals to what Anderson referred to as “imagined communities” . To explain further, these “imagined communities” are created through the process of media-related visual cues. An influx of these cues from globalization and localization causes Singapore’s national identity to be continually contested and negotiated.
Singapore as a globalizing nation state
Minister Mentor Lee Kwan Yew once said: ‘if more Singaporeans worked abroad and their children forgot their roots…They dissolve and disappear and there is no Singaporeâ€¦ They become citizens of the world. What does that mean? Lost!’ .
As Singapore’s leaders continue to drive Singapore to become a globalized entity, global influences, such as international education and marriage to foreigners, result in the diminishing of Singapore’s nation identity. The main issue here is the loss of Singapore’s future generations of globalized young citizens who were never exposed to the fear of regional hostility or global alienation . Ironically, these generations of Singaporeans have been exposed to the very setting created by the government – Singapore’s global environment – that have in turn caused them to diminish their sense of national identity.
The influence of popular culture on youths in Singapore
The lack of national identity of Singapore’s most globalized segment of the population, the socially and politically apathetic younger generation, is a pivotal political issue in Singapore.
Singapore leaders have tried to combat the social and political consequence of embracing globalization by recounting Singapore’s difficult past to the future generations as an answer to Singapore’s shortfall . However, the attraction of globalization presents itself as a strong deterrence to the Republic’s vision for its citizens.
This deterrence can be explained by Berger’s proposition of “an emerging global culture” distinguished by individuation . The embracement of globalization and its exposure to the people has achieved “Individuation”, which in Singapore’s context suggests the ability of citizens to form a stronger sense of “self” or “individuality” over the nation’s collectiveness; hence a weakening of national identity.
To add on to the people’s sense of “individuation”, constrains in freedom of criticism of the government have led to demonstration of social trends such as the appropriation of immigration and emigration, as well as a general apathy towards national issues. The latter is best expressed as an attitude of indifference toward defending the nation, as well as, an attitude of dispassion towards Singapore’s national identity.
Globalization issues of emigration and immigration in Singapore
To nurture their only resource, people, Singapore sends its people abroad for higher education and training, and to hone their human resources, Singapore induces “foreign talent” to immigrate to Singapore. Even though these strategies have been successful, in championing objectives of increasing Singapore’s human talent pool, they weaken the national identity of the nation.
Most Singaporeans sent overseas find more opportunities abroad and do not return. By the same token, new immigrants have a greater attachment to their home countries and would leave Singapore eventually. It is clear that although globalization helps Singapore thrive successfully, it undermines a deep attachment to the nation, hence undermining national identity.
Furthermore, talented Singaporeans also feel that they will have more professional opportunities if they left Singapore to become a “foreign talent”. In responds to this, the leaders of Singapore indicated that they are aware of the double-edge sword of globalization, and included that emigration of talented Singaporeans would cause the core of the nation to unravel .
It is important to note that the matters raised above, within the quitter-stayer debate, do not entirely point to issues pertaining to loyalty. Rather it points to issues that have emerged from the establishment of a national identity in conjunction with the Republic’s efforts to embrace globalization – Meritocracy.
Meritocracy, Singapore’s national value, has aptly associated talent to success and reward. It was strategically propagated to put Singapore on the global economy map . Today, this very ideal that helped achieve Singapore’s global status also diminishes the Republic’s national identity by ingraining an opportunistic mindset into the people, hence indirectly telling Singapore’s talent to go where opportunities exist.
Commitment issues in Singapore as a result of globalization
Another repercussion to Singapore’s embracement of globalization has been a sabotaging of commitment to Singapore’s well being, where the future generations are unwilling to sacrifice for the nation.
One letter in the Straits Times forum page read, “What do we have in Singapore that are worth dying for?” This paper suggests that Singapore only really offers economic gain. Unfortunately, that could be attained elsewhere, hence “there is nothing that compels Singaporeans to stay here, let alone die for their country .” Although Singapore’s myth of economic progress is seen by the nation as a firm foundation of its national identity, it is being undermined because of globalization.
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In relation to the point above, Anderson puts, “the imaginings of a nation are limited to the extent of elastic boundaries” . Economic progress is not something exclusive to Singapore and therefore its usage as a national identity by the state is undermined. Through globalization, people identity themselves with an international community, and hence marginalize Singapore’s national identity of economic progress.
Studies have shown that while Singaporeans indicate that they experience a national identity through materiality and achievements of the nation, this form of identity does not conjure up a feeling of allegiance. Neither does it evoke a passion that people may fight and die for, nor does it arouse a sense of differentiation between other cultures.
Singapore’s success story as a national identity
Very similarly to the point above, Singapore’s success story of economic progress, which led the Republic to achieving a worldwide identity, could diminish Singapore’s national identity. In what this paper views as the Singapore paradox, the goals of the state, which is to sustain the nation, could be threatened by the successful integration of its people into a de-nationalizing globalized identity. This is because globalization propagates factors like transnational migration that undermines the national identity of the Singapore.
This discussion of globalization’s effects on Singapore’s national identity raises several conclusions that are relevant not only to Singaporeans but to other nations undergoing processes of globalization.
Singapore’s government has embraced globalization as a vital means of not only economic growth but also the Republic’s survival. This paper has portrayed how the embracement of globalization exerts pressure on Singapore’s difficulty to construct an effective connection between the nation and its citizens through a quest for national identity. The very tactics of globalization that have led to the rise of Singapore’s economy have compromised the nation’s shared identity and opportunities; and as a result of the rise of Singapore’s affluence through globalization, it is difficult to minimize the negative factors of globalization and maximize the positive factors of localization in establishing a national identity.
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