Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


School of Arts


Faculty of Arts

First Advisor

Dr Brian Shoesmith


This thesis investigates the way in which an official multicultural identity has been constructed in Singapore at the expense of the cultural specificity that exists within the multiculturalism framework. The construction of the multicultural identity in Singapore has been engineered socially through heritage policies, heritage preservation projects and the media. However, the official multicultural policy in itself is problematic because of the existence of the four independent parent cultures, so that a Singaporean is constantly reminded of a cultural identity which is determined by race, history, language and class. This is further complicated by a dominant Chinese population so that the cultural identity of Singapore is fundamentally Chinese, while the Malay, Indian and Eurasian cultures are dragged along in its tail. I will argue that the Singapore government has carefully constructed a multicultural identity without addressing the underpinning historical and racial factors. The purpose of the study is an investigation of the tension between the multiculturalism and cultural specificity which will help to reveal my claim that there is predominantly a Chinese cultural identity in Singapore and the created notion of a multicultural identity is an illusion. The multicultural identity in Singapore is founded on a set of neo-Confucian principles which are reproduced in the national core values defined by the government in the White Paper in 1991. These neo-Confucian values are established on principles of frugality and the emphasis on the family. Although these values are not entirely foreign to the Malay and Indian cultures, their perceptions on how the family operates may be different based on the Islam, Hindu or even Christian teachings. Although the government maintains that Confucian teaching is regarded as philosophical in character rather than reflecting Chinese teachings, it is nevertheless a topic which begs investigation within the multicultural and multi religious context of Singapore. It appears that multiculturalism in Singapore does not equally promote four cultures but is inclined towards the Chinese culture and the minor cultures have come to identify with the cultural framework that the Singapore government has constructed. I will investigate this construction by analysing the speeches of well-known Singapore politicians like Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and George Yeo and the role of the media in reporting multiculturalism in Singapore. The relationship between multiculturalism and the Singapore media will be examined through the methodology devised by Birch (1993). His theoretical framework deals specifically with the analysis of the Singapore media and is shown to be crucial to the understanding of cultural and political practices in Singapore. By applying Birch’s theory, I will show how multiculturalism is constructed by the Singapore government through the media. The study of Sentosa, a heritage tourism site in Singapore, will be explored to establish the relationships between multiculturalism, tourism and conservation in Singapore. This will be done following the framework devised Boniface and Fowler (1993) on the phenomena of 'heritage' and 'tourism', adapting it to multiculturalism in Singapore. Their theoretical framework for the study of culture deals specifically with heritage in the United Kingdom and Europe, but I will argue the methodology devised is appropriate for the study of culture in Singapore because the issues confronting each nation are similar. The key elements to be investigated are the relationship between culture and tourism, architectural heritage in the tourism context, and the construction of multiculturalism through the media. By looking at the various (multi)cultural, social and economic underpinnings of multiculturalism, I will show in my thesis that the construction of multiculturalism in Singapore is to negotiate a mechanism of control by the government.

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