(Re)constructing the Nation? Representations of Public Housing in School Geography Textbooks

Within education literature, scholars have argued that schools play an important role in social reproduction. However the literature on the role of specific subjects in this process is less examined. Within geography education, there is a growing interest and critical examination of the purposes of geography teaching. These accounts suggest that the content of school geography fulfils particular social purposes and national ideologies. In fact, political geographers like Radcliffe (1999) have argued that geographical professionalism and skills have provided the knowledge/power with which to promote certain “imagined” geographies upon which a social or national sense of identity can rest. In Singapore, geography scholars like Kong and Yeoh (2003, p. 2) have examined the specific strategies that the Singapore state uses to construct the Singapore “nation” using both ideological and material practices. They suggest that the public housing landscape has been an important means to this end. The role of public housing in the construction of the Singapore’s national identity has been documented by academics - from scaling up to a first world nation through public housing, to Singapore’s public housing being emulated as a successful model. However there is little analysis of the ways in which public housing has been represented within school geography in order to promote certain imagined geographies in the population.

This paper, therefore, considers the representations of public housing in school geography textbooks from the 1970s to present day. It analyses the role that these textbook chapters on public housing play in augmenting the state’s modernist projects and goals, as well as the symbolic meanings attached to the content on public housing in reproducing particular types of Singaporean identities. It further compares the textbook content to the larger developmental goals of the state throughout these periods, and surfaces the realities that are obscured in the process.

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~ John Dewey, How We Think

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