Writing social histories of Singapore and making do with the archives

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Postwar urban planning in Singapore rehoused squatters and slum dwellers in emergency public housing and socialized them as model citizens. To write a social history of this urban development is to tangle with historiographical and methodological issues stemming from the use of various archives: the documents of the state, obviously, but also ‘alternative archives’–namely, the oral histories of former squatters-turned-public-housing owners. Historical research involves ‘making do’ with these archives–reconciling issues, dealing with presentist influences and taking risks with the material. Reading against the archival grain to write the social history of the squatters extends our understanding of modern Singapore beyond the political and economic elites. It simultaneously reveals the archives as a technology of rule, containing the concerns and policy actions of their authors who, as urban planners, criminalized the squatters and deprived them of their agency and voice. Furthermore, unlike public archives elsewhere, the Singapore archives are classified and open to access in unequal parts. The real archives are often what already exists, or existed, in the public domain. Finally, the social historian must make do with oral history, which although useful still bears the influence of the official narrative called The Singapore Story.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)164-177
Number of pages14
JournalSouth East Asia Research
Volume28
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2 Apr 2020

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