‘Little India’: Diverging Destinies in Heritage Spaces , pp. 8 of 10

Destinies: Divergent or Shared?

Robert D. Putnam’s work on ethnic diversity, honoured by the 2006 Skytte Prize committee, traces its substantial and continued increase across virtually all modern societies. Putnam sees increased immigration and diversity as inevitable and while initially testing of social solidarity, over the longer run it has desirable outcomes in the construction of new, more encompassing identities. The challenge for modern, diversifying societies is to create a new, broader sense of “we” (Putnam 2007, p. 139). In Singapore the colonial city was built up by immigrants who, following independence, were defined according to the carefully managed ethnic balance and social mosaic CMIO model which disciplined and managed differences in the pursuit of the common goals of economic growth, public education, healthcare, housing and national security. In Singapore the “we” was thus framed by the CMIO model and the official if understated policy of maintaining the ethnic Chinese proportion of the home population at a constant 75%; with “them” being the tightly regulated flow of foreign workers who were contracted to perform in a segmented labour market differentiated between an highly educated and highly skilled “expatriate talent” sector and a semi- or unskilled “foreign worker” group designated for the dirty, difficult and dangerous jobs (3‘Ds’). Such official bureaucratic demarcation thus contrived and effectively masked an inequity of economic, social and personal dignities and destinies that have distanced citizens from transients.

As Singapore has imported the global problem of inequity through its segmented labour market, the city-state has also become one of the most unequal of countries. Epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (2010) make the case that “more equal” members of the world’s richest group of countries perform much better than their “less equal” counterparts on a wide range of social and economic indicators. Within the “rich-group”, Singapore has a 2009 Gini coefficient score of 42.5, whereby the richest 20% of households command nine times the wealth of the poorest 20% (2010, p. 15), more disturbingly this inequity is combined with the second highest levels of incarceration (after the USA) and the second lowest levels of ‘trust’ (after Portugal) (2010, p. 148). The palpable gap between “we” and “them” is one that needs to be addressed in the “new normal” era of low fertility, ageing population, rising inequality and an increasingly visible population of hitherto marginalised workers. Can the PAP government embrace the Brave New World of contemporary reality or will they revert back to the “old abnormal” (Low & Vadaketh 2014, p. 5)?

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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