IJAPS, Vol. 6, No. 2 (July 2010)
SINGAPOREAN YOUTHS MUST HAVE WINGS AND YET KNOW WHERE THEIR NEST IS Nicole Tarulevicz*
School of Asian Languages and Studies, University of Tasmania e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Young people generally form the future of any nation state and Singapore is no exception, it is, however, especially concerned about the future of itself as a nation. For Singapore the theme of youth is doubled, as the newness of the nation is a mirrored reflection of young Singaporeans and for the state. Young people embody the fragility of the nation itself, and government policy towards them has become a site where anxiety about the future of the nation is expressed. "Singaporean youths must have wings and yet know where their nest is" interrogates selected policies directed at young people in the city-state of Singapore against the backdrop of the youth of that nation-state itself. This examination includes: policies towards young offenders (and criminality generally), highlighting the anxiety the state feels about the non-conformity of young law-breakers and about the othering of criminals, about the role of National Service as a mechanism for masculinised nation building, and about the definition and discourse around post-independence generations, including the "brain drain" generation, the "Generation Millennium", and the "quitters and stayers", illustrating Singaporean tension between nationalism and political apathy. The resulting analysis questions the notion of youth as agents of change, troubles ideas of technology as a mechanism for liberalisation in Singapore, and challenges Western assumptions about the liberalising power of affluence and globalisation. Keywords: Singaporean youths, nation, anxiety, consumption, crime
Nicole Tarulevicz, is a historian by training and is currently working on a cultural history of food in Singapore. The book, is to be publish with the University of Illinois Press, is entitled Eating the Nation: A Cultural History of Food in Singapore. Her broad research interests include nationalism and the nation state, national histories, food, and food history and these are reflected in her publications — including articles and book chapters on history-making in Singapore, capital punishment, and Singapore's race and ethnicity policies.
IJAPS, Vol. 6, No. 2 (July 2010)
INTRODUCTION Novelty and youth are leitmotivs in the national narrative of Singapore. In particular, the government regularly draws attention to the newness of the nation in order to stress Singapore's fragility as a nation-state and apprehension about the lack of a nationally binding tradition. The nation is perceived as being inherently vulnerable to both internal and external threats, precisely because of its young people. According to official policies, the youth of the nation must, therefore, be disciplined. In this discourse, however, "the youth of the nation" coupled with newness of the nation, come across as a mirrored reflection of young Singaporeans. Young people reflect, in the state's rhetoric, the youth and fragility of the nation itself. This reflection is in constant tension with Singaporean politics. In one sense, young people are imbued with the potential of the nation. They are thus, in the words of Vivienne, "the yeast ensuring Singapore's pre-eminence".1 Like yeast, however, there is the always the risk that the youth will not rise, and, without yeast, can there be any hope that the nation itself will rise concurrently? On the other hand, an overly active culture threatens hard-won political stability. Young people are the future of the nation, but only if they comply with the state's expectations will they fulfil this potential. If they fail to live up to the state's expectations, young Singaporeans and, by implication, the nation, are threatened. This calls for an unusually extensive and public policing of youth behaviour as well...
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