Geographical Imagination: PM Lee Hsien's Descriptions of Singapore

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GE1101E/GEK1001Examination Semester 1, 2011/12
Section A ‘Human Geography’:
Suggested Answers & Common Problems

1. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong recently described Singapore in the following ways at the National Day Rally 2011: “an exceptional country, like few others in the world”; “a unique city in a garden”; and “a special place Singaporeans call home”. How is the concept of ‘Geographical Imagination’ relevant in helping us appreciate PM Lee’s descriptions of Singapore as well as possible reactions from members of the public towards these descriptions?
* Introduction: General introduction to PM Lee’s NDR 2011 and how he painted a very personal view of S’pore. Reinforce the question above by stating that concept of GI is helpful to better appreciate PM Lee’s pronouncements as well as possible reactions from “members of the public” (who include Singaporeans, PRs, and people from around the world who happen to read/watch the Rally).

* Definitions (maybe in 2nd paragraph): Define “Geographical Imagination” using Massey’s (1995) definition and/or your own explanations (paraphrased). Can also bring in other views/explanations (e.g. David Harvey, Felix Driver, Chang and Lim etc). Should note that GI is not always objective description of a place, but can be a subjective/personal view. It also carries ideological intent of painting a vision of how a place should be in the future (agenda; ‘aspirational’). GIs are also not uniform; everybody has different GIs based on their experiences, values, intentions etc.

* Part 1: How GI helps us appreciate PM Lee’s descriptions?

Firstly, GIs are never ‘innocent’ but embody agendas (in this case, political-economic). PM Lee’s GI is a positive view of S’pore in order to boost local morale and project S’pore in best possible light to foreigners. PM Lee has an agenda, to showcase S’pore in a multi-faceted way – ecological (garden city), economic (exceptional, unique place for tourists to visit), social (home). All these help to attract foreign people/investments (prospective foreign talent, tourists, investors/TNCs), and encourage & retain local residents. May also be a showcase (self-praise?) of his government’s achievements in the past year.

* Secondly, GIs can serve as ideological tools, providing ‘aspirational’ images to rally people towards a future goal. PM Lee reminds people S’pore intends to be exceptional, unique, green, a homely place for citizens/new citizens. By stating this, he is projecting a future that S’pore is on-route towards achieving. Neil Postman’s idea of “meta-narratives” as well as Jon Goss’ notion of “ego-ideals” (cited in Chang and Lim) are relevant.

* Thirdly, GIs are also founded on basic principles, values and characteristics of a place. PM Lee is reminding people of a basic idea of S’pore’s uniqueness – multi-racial; generally politically ‘clean’; rapid progress in just 40 years; 100% urban, yet with quite a bit of nature; no natural resources yet produces its own water and refines oil. He appears to be extending STB’s ‘Uniquely Singapore’ image (tourism marketing of 1996-2004). There must be some basic accuracy in his GI, otherwise Rally will appear as pure propaganda and lies!

* Part 2: How GI helps us understand different public reactions to PM’s descriptions

The concept of GI is also helpful in explaining people’s reactions to PM Lee’s descriptions. GI is never uniform across different people: some will agree while others will be cynical and even downright disagree or oppose his views. Their reactions depend on their experiences, knowledge, political affiliation, exposure to different viewpoints etc.

* Firstly, some S’poreans may agree especially those who support the government’s efforts to develop S’pore’s economically, ecologically and socially. These people probably are government supporters too (quite possibly older generation who has seen S’pore progress over the decades)....
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