(Re)constructing the Nation? Representations of Public Housing in School Geography Textbooks, pp. 7 of 14

Public Housing Representations in Geography Textbooks

We have analysed 8 school geography textbooks that were used in Singapore schools over the period 1969 to 2015. Numerous pictures and textual descriptions of public housing in Singapore were found in these textbooks. These school geography textbooks are read as cultural texts to interpret how dominant versions of reality and practice can be constructed through the material and represented landscapes of public housing to  institutionalise and naturalise actively the ideologies of ‘nation’ and ‘nationhood’. The following section deploys an interpretative textual analysis method to examine the “imagined geographies” of high-rise and high-density public housing estates. We argue that the state harnessed the techniques of power in and through education to represent public housing as a successful urban form and planning solution to population problems in the earlier years to an emblem of high standards of living as the nation progressed along the development trajectory. In recent years, public housing is also (re)presented as an “aspirational urban form” (Leary & McCarthy, 2013: 9) of “inclusive housing” (Goh et al., 2015:96) where people of all walks of life willingly choose to live and work, contributing to a strong sense of place and belonging.

Housing a Nation

Societies occupy space and this occupancy provides a rich resource to create a national identity (Short, 1991). The local school geography textbooks in Singapore emerged during a time of important social, economic, cultural and environmental changes, and have mobilised the national environmental ideologies of Singapore’s small island size and challenge of rapid population growth in the course of nation-building. The revised series of primary school geography textbooks published during this period emphasise the role of the HDB in transforming the national space of Singapore and to house a nation by providing affordable housing for the diverse “Chinese, Malay, Indian, Ceylonese and probably Eurasian and European . . . Peoples of Singapore” (cited
from Nair et al.’s (1969, p. 18) Junior Singapore Geographies Book 4).

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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