Dissertation > Social Sciences > Ethnology > National social patterns,social systems

From local to nation-state

Author AGaZuoShi
Tutor WangJianMin
School Central University for Nationalities
Course Anthropology
Keywords nation-state and history multiracialism of Singapore The Raffles Hotel
CLC C954
Type PhD thesis
Year 2007
Downloads 676
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The dissertation is an ethnographic account of Singapore as a nation-state, as represented in the Raffles Hotel Museum and two state rituals. By seeking for an alternative perspective on the historical study of Southeast Asia, the dissertation attempts to treat the challenges that the Singapore case constitutes to the anthropological theories of nation, nationalism and nation-state.History and national identity are usually considered as the necessary building blocks of a nation-state. However, for Singapore, a nation-state founded in 1960s, little blocks are available, except for the geographic boundary and the political and economic institutions laid down by the colonial power. The main purpose of the study is to locate how a nation-state has become possible in such a context and how Singapore has represented its identity. The research on the Raffles Hotel Museum and two state rituals reveals the colonial elitist tradition which undergoes continued re-interpretations.In building-up a nation-state, an "other" or "others" is necessary to create a nationalist emotion. However, regarding to the historical experience of Singapore from a village to an independent state, and the limitedness of its demographical constitution and survival conditions, it isdifficult to find an opposite "other" or "others". In the Raffles Hotel Museum, Singapore finds itself a way by making it a crossroad of west and east as well as a repertory of the golden age of colonial history. Since 1987, the year the Raffles Hotel was designated as a national monument, the history represented in its museum has become an indispensable part of Singapore’s past. The new version of history beyond the boundary of nation-state is appropriated as the national history. Tolerating differences becomes the basis of Singapore’s identity which substitutes for the project of finding an impossible Other. However, it is awkward when one finds that the people of nation-state supposed to remember the history are kept out of the museum, in order for the tourists from all over the world come to consume the nostalgia of the colonial golden age.If the Raffles Hotel Museum is informing the outsiders of what Singapore is all about, then Singapore National Day Parade and the state funeral can be seen as top-down nation-building within the country. On the National Day Parade, the perfect performance of government’s ability of organization and the repeat of national history year after year still can’t prevent its people from collective amnesia, partly because of its "multiracialism" policy. This policy emphasizes on the fact that every ethnic group should keep their own culture in order to build the common ground of identification with the country in a harmonious social atmosphere. However, this ideal decreases the interactions betweendifferent ethnic groups since the value of "respecting each other’s culture" is strictly guarded by the government. In the process of inventing traditions and national history, the "multiracialism" calls for detailed inquiries, because it puts Singapore in an awkward situation: any tensions among people of different ethnic groups may end up in racial conflicts. As a result, an ordinary people may become a racialist sued by the government.The dissertation tries to understand nation-state as more a process than a form. It is, therefore, neither an end nor a start. Given nation-state as an imagined community is in a process of (re)interpretation and reconstruction, the approach to it should be a historical one.

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