Fear and Ambivalence in Singapore: Mapping the Saltwater Crocodile in the Singapore Consciousness (Wed, 13 September 2017)

Speaker: Kate Pocklington (Conservator, NUS Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum)
Date: Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


In the 1820s, William Farquhar’s dog was eaten by a crocodile on the bank of the Rochor River. The 1849 autobiography Hikayat Abdullah, by Abdullah bin Abdul Kadir, stated this was ‘the first time people knew there were crocodiles in Singapore’. By 1996, the IUCN assessed saltwater crocodiles as being ‘regionally extinct’ in Singapore. Yet, over the last few years, Pocklington’s research has uncovered over 380 present and historic records of crocodiles in Singapore showing that whilst they are indeed elusive, they have never left our waters. The alleged realisation of their existence here nearly 200 years ago did not account for the extensive cultural manifestations and equivocal human relationships. Much of the cultural significance has been surrendered in distortions of new perceptions; once considered territorial protectors and reincarnations of warriors, crocodiles have become victim to habitat destruction, governmental incentives for eradication, and a booming international skin trade. For some, crocodiles appear to be nothing more than a dangerous predator, but there is a juncture in which their histories unfold a mapping of conversations, systems of belief and the connection between human and nature. Where do these parallels and collisions of the ‘predator and prey’ dynamic cross the paths of co-existence?

About the speaker

Kate Pocklington is the Conservator at the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum (LKCNHM) at the National University of Singapore. She studied fine art and graphic design, and later Conservation and Restoration at the University of Lincoln in the UK. She began working at LKCNHM in 2012 after her five-year ground work as natural history conservator in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Pocklington focuses her art and research on nature, culture, and societal change of the destructive human-nature parallels. This often creates a connection between her art and her career: preventing degradation, revitalising the past of science and nature, and looking behind and beyond. She is currently active in a collaboration between LKCNHM and NUS Museum with the prep-room project Buaya: The making of a non-myth held at NUS Museum.

Urban Heritage on Jakarta’s Riverine Communities – A Seminar by Dr Rita Padawangi (Wed, 5 April 2017)

Speaker: Dr Rita Padawangi (Senior Research Fellow, Asia Research Institute)
Date: Wednesday, 5 April 2017
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


Riverine settlements are commonly found in cities of Southeast Asian and has experienced transformation along with urban developments. Many cities are located along rivers and water bodies because of the importance of water as sources of livelihoods, trade paths, social spaces, and providers of environmental resources. Given the importance of rivers in the history of cities up to the present time, how are riverine communities located in the urban heritage discourse? In this presentation, I rely on data from ethnographic interviews, field observations and subsequent discussions with residents of old riverine settlements in Jakarta to examine how the meanings of the place relate with perceived historical significance and the impacts of urban development. Building-focused official heritage discourse in the city has long emphasized remnants of colonial influence, and heritage preservation is geared towards making economic gains through renovations as efforts to reconcile development and old building structures. In the meantime, rapid development of cities during post-colonial growth of the economy has transformed social, cultural and political relationships between urban life and rivers. Deteriorated urban rivers with high levels of pollution and dense settlements along the banks with poor infrastructure services have become typical challenges in the 1980s, and in many cases these challenges continue until the present time. Regardless of historical significance, riverine settlements are rarely acknowledged as heritage and are therefore more likely to be displaced rather than preserved. Displacement threats and uncertainties as normalcy in historical riverine communities represent contradictions within the official heritage discourse of the city.

About the speaker

Rita Padawangi is a Senior Research Fellow of the Asian Urbanisms Cluster at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. She received her Ph.D. in Sociology from Loyola University Chicago where she was a Fulbright Scholar for her M.A. studies. She holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from the Parahyangan Catholic University. Her research interests cover the sociology of architecture and participatory urban development. She is the Regional Coordinator of the Southeast Asia Neighborhood Network (SEANNET) program, funded by a grant from the Henry Luce Foundation. She is editor of “Cities by and for the People in Asia” (Amsterdam University Press, forthcoming, with Yves Cabannes and Mike Douglass) and “Routledge Handbook of Urbanization in Southeast Asia” (forthcoming). Her paper “Water, Water Everywhere: Toward Participatory Solutions to Chronic Urban Flooding in Jakarta” (authored with Mike Douglass, 2015) won the 14th William J. Holland Prize for Outstanding Paper in Pacific Affairs journal. She is working on her sole-authored book manuscript, titled “Place Power: Civil Societies, Public Spaces, and the Environment in Urban Indonesia.”

Sonic City: Making Rock Music and Urban Life in Singapore – a seminar by A/P Steve Ferzacca (Wed, 22 March 2017)

Speaker: Assoc Prof Steve Ferzacca (Visiting Associate Professor, Yale-NUS College)
Date: Wednesday, 22 March 2017
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


This talk examines the making of rock music in Singapore by a community of amateur and semi-professional musicians, their family, friends, and fans as simultaneously the making of urban life.  This sonic ethnography derived from 5 years of fieldwork with a group of aging Singapore rockers explores the implications of understanding social relations in the resonance and reverberations that musical activity produces. Following Steven Feld (2012), this talk illustrates “a way of knowing” and experiencing urban life through sound. From music shops located in the basements of shopping malls, to practice spaces and jam sessions, and onto live music venues and performance stages, making sound as a “way of knowing the world” deepens. For these aging rockers, once denigrated by the Singaporean regime as purveyors of “yellow culture,” and now celebrated as icons of heritage, making musical life in this sonic city articulates sound and place in shared experience and the creation of subjectivities deeply rooted in this crossroads of the world.

About the speaker

Steve Ferzacca received a PhD from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Department of Anthropology in 1996. He is an associate professor of Anthropology at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada. Presently, Steve is a Visiting Associate Professor and the Acting Head of Study for the Anthropology Program at Yale-NUS College. For most of his career, Steve’s research was in the field of medical anthropology, focusing attention on urban medicine and chronic disease in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. While appointed as a Senior Research Fellow at the Asia Research Institute at NUS, he began ethnographic work in Singapore with a group of musicians. Steve’s work appears in Medical Anthropology Quarterly, Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies of Illness and Medicine, Ethos, Annual Review of Anthropology, Senses and Society, to list a few. His 2001 book, Healing the Modern in a Central Javanese City, is based on his work in Yogya. Steve served as editor of Medical Anthropology: Cross-Cultural Studies in Illness and Medicine. He is currently working on a book manuscript, “Sonic City: Making Rock Music and Urban Life in Singapore” for NUS Press.

Recombinant Urban Hedging Practices in Late-Socialist Saigon – a seminar by Dr Hun Kim (Fri, 10 February 2017)

Speaker: Dr Hun Kim (Postdoctoral Research Fellow, ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute)
Date: Friday, 10 February 2017
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


Buoyed by the reform mandate to commodify what was once collective land, Saigon’s government agencies have partnered with investors from East and Southeast Asia as well as with development institutions from the West, to reimagine and build the world-class city. These movements of urban capital and expertise do not circulate abstractly or uniformly. The city is made based on variant forms of connection between an array of different sources of capital, each bringing with them their historical expertise in urban development and/or urban investment in their home countries as well as their connections to both local and national government in the late socialist state. These differences are exacerbated by paradigmatic shifts in both urban modelling and risk profiles of development finance. As the “citational” references of the world-class city rapidly move from West to East (Aihwa Ong and Ananya Roy 2011), so must the art of governing urban space be open and flexible to many of these alternative visions for the city and their methods of finance, design and construction.

This talk explores how the city uses its powers of exception to govern speculatively, effectively hedging the many alternative urban futures proposed and built by transnational urban capital. These futures carry with them different and conflicting ethical regimes and modes of governance whose conflicts in the present are suspended by maintaining a position of simultaneity, or what Abdumaliq Simone characterizes as “a general wariness of pinning things down” (2016).  These practices are often associated with how postsocialist and late-socialist regimes maintain “recombinant” rationales such that assets can be valued and held “according to more than just one legitimizing principle” (David Stark, 1996). I argue this logic can be mapped onto urban governance and regional capital flows.

About the speaker

Dr Hun Kim is a postdoctoral research fellow at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute. He holds a Ph.D. in City and Regional Planning with a designated emphasis in Global Metropolitan Studies from the University of California at Berkeley. His research interests include: urban social-spatial transformation under late-socialist and postsocialist regimes, inter-Asian circuits of investment capital in land development and real estate, development theory and governance. His book project, entitled, “Reform Capital: Hedging Saigon’s Urban Future” examines government reforms that facilitate inter-Asian capital flows into urban real estate projects in Saigon, Vietnam.

Reading Malaysia through Six Decades of Elections: A Roundtable Discussion

Jointly organized by the Malaysia Study Group of Asia Research Institute, Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore, and ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore.


Date: Monday, 23 January 2017
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm 

Venue: Asia Research Institute Seminar Room, AS8 Level 4, 10 Kent Ridge Crescent, Singapore 119260



This roundtable discussion will focus on the recent book by Johan Saravanamuttu, Power Sharing in a Divided Nation: Mediated Communalism and New Politics in Six Decades of Elections in Malaysia (2016). This book is based on the author’s many years of observing and researching electoral politics in Malaysia. The ruling National Front (BN), with its consociational model, has dominated central political structures while the Opposition Alliance (PR), which collectively advocates multicultural ideals, remains weak institutionally. Both the BN and now the PR have been effective in pooling the votes of Malaysia’s ethnic communities in elections by moving or spinning politics to the centre of the political terrain and by advocating moderate ethnic policies. The tendency for Malay-Muslim political parties such as UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) and PAS (Islamic Party of Malaysia) to gravitate towards extremist and purist ethnic and religious lines has escalated within the last few years. Taking into account the notion of centripetalism as well as the older notions of communalism and consociationalism, the book introduces an approach, namely, mediated communalism, that could account more fully for electoral successes and failures in the Malaysian case. The book serves to test the salience of a distinct approach to ethnic power sharing and electoral dominance, a practice that is peculiar to a social formation such as Malaysia, which is ethnically, religiously and regionally divided, yet remarkably and tenuously integrated throughout its electoral history.



Moderator       Goh Beng Lan | Department of Southeast Asian Studies, National University of Singapore

16:00               Presentation by Speaker
Johan Saravanamuttu | S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

16:30               Commentary Remarks
Ooi Kee Beng | ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore
Bilveer Singh | Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore, and S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies,
Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
Mohamed Nawab Mohamed Osman | S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore

17:00               Q&A


About the speakers

Johan Saravanamuttu, Adjunct Senior Fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, held previous positions as Professor of Political Science at Science University of Malaysia (USM) and Visiting Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. He is the author of Malaysia’s Foreign Policy, the First 50 Years: Alignment, Neutralism, Islamism (ISEAS, 2010) and Power Sharing in a Divided Nation: Mediated Communalism and New Politics over Six Decades of Elections in Malaysia (ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, 2016). His current research focuses on party capitalism, money politics and electoral democracy.

Ooi Kee Beng is the Deputy Director of ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, Singapore. His book, The Reluctant Politician – Tun Dr Ismail and His Time (2006) won the “Award of Excellence for Best Writing Published in Book Form on Any Aspect of Asia (Non-Fiction)” in 2008, while Continent, Coast, Ocean: Dynamics of Regionalism in Eastern Asia, was named “Top Academic Work” in 2008. Other major works include The Eurasian Core and Its Edges: Dialogues with Wang Gungwu on the History of the World (2015); Lim Kit Siang: Defying the Odds (2015); Young and Malay: Growing Up in Multicultural Malaysia (2015); Merdeka for the Mind: Essays on Malaysian Struggles in the 21st Century (2015); The Right to Differ: A Biographical Sketch of Lim Kit Siang (2011); In Lieu of Ideology: An Intellectual Biography of Goh Keng Swee (2010); Malaya’s First Year at the United Nations (2009); March 8: Eclipsing May 13 (2008); and Lost in Transition: Malaysia under Abdullah (2008). He is a columnist for The Edge Malaysia, and is founder-editor of ISEAS Perspective as well as Penang Monthly, and editor of Trends in Southeast Asia.

Bilveer Singh is an Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Centre of Excellence for National Security (CENS) at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) and Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science, National University of Singapore. He was Acting Head, CENS from January to December 2010. He graduated with Masters and PhD in International Relations from the Australian National University. His current research interests include studying regional security issues focusing on the rise and the management of Islamist terrorism in Southeast Asia, security issues in Indonesia, especially the challenge of separatism in Papua, the role of great powers in Southeast Asia, especially China and India, as well as the domestic and foreign policies of Singapore. He has published widely, his latest work being on the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Currently, Bilveer is the President of the Political Science Association of Singapore.

Mohamed Nawab Osman is the Coordinator of the Malaysia Program at RSIS. His research interests include the domestic and international politics of Southeast and South Asian countries, transnational Islamic political movements and counter-radicalization. Nawab has written various papers, books and journal articles relating to his research interests. Some of these articles have been featured in prominent journals such as Southeast Asia Research, South Asia, Terrorism and Political Violence, Indonesia and the Malay World and Contemporary Southeast Asia. Several of his opinion pieces have been featured in leading dailies such as The Straits Times, India Express, The Nation (Thailand), Jakarta Post, Manila Times and Today’s Zaman (Turkey). Nawab is a frequent commentator on political Islam, terrorism and Southeast Asian politics on CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera and Channel News Asia. Nawab is a social activist and serves as the President of Critical Xchange, an organization that seeks provide a mutually beneficial platform for Muslim citizens and incoming expats to exchange news, views and skills with the local Singaporean community. He also sits in the boards of Association of Muslim Professionals and Jamiyah Singapore. In 2014, he was nominated to attend the inaugural Young Southeast Asian Leader’s Initiative, a program initiated by President Barack Obama. He also attended the inaugural YSEALI workshop in Singapore as a mentor. Nawab has attended a number of prestigious fellowship program organized by the governments of the United States, France and China.



Admission is free. REGISTER to RSVP.

Honours Seminar, Semester 1 AY2016-2017

Chairperson: Assoc Prof Goh Beng Lan
Date: Wednesday, 19 October 2016
Time: 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


Of Ports and Starboards: Rethinking Women’s Integration in the Singapore Navy 

Speaker: Audrey Yong Hui Ling

The advocacy for gender equality in the world as well as in Singapore, has seen traditionally male-dominated organisations such as the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN), reinventing itself as gender-neutral in order to facilitate the process of injecting women into the current inter-gendered organisation. In reinventing itself as gender-neutral, the RSN has put in place policies that firstly, ensure equal career opportunities for women, and secondly, ensure that the modesty of women are protected. However, while these policies attempt to portray the RSN as gender-neutral, the reality is that underlying gender inequalities continue to exist within the organisation due to the socialisation of gender norms. By examining everyday interactions between men and women in the RSN, gendered division of labour, and the tension women face between their aspirations and their expected gender role in society, this thesis argues that it takes more than just the reinvention of policies to achieve gender equality in the organisation. With that, this thesis also shows the limitations of policy-oriented studies which often engage in a top-down approach, overlooking the realities in practice.


Reproduction of Racial Inequality in Singapore 

Speaker: Lok Weng Seng

Discussion of racial relations in Singapore might have just moved beyond the usual discourse of vigilance and fragile harmony to a bolder confrontation of matters. Despite talk of Chinese privilege in Singapore society, some Singaporeans are still in denial that there is a serious problem of racial inequality in Singapore when the issue is all too real for others. The thesis uses the ethnographic approach to analyse how racial inequality is perpetuated at the micro or individual level. With the rich secondary material on how racial inequality is produced at the structural level, the thesis will then examine the link between these levels to provide a clearer understanding of how the contradictions of meritocracy and multi-racialism in Singapore can persist.

Policing with Pictures in Modern Thailand – a seminar by Dr Samson Lim (Wed, 2 November 2016)

Speaker: Dr Samson Lim (Assistant Professor in History, Singapore University of Technology and Design
Date: Wednesday, 2 November 2016
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


This talk presents a history of the visual culture of policing in modern Thailand. Through an analysis of Thai language primary sources including police training manuals, trial records, and newspaper stories, it argues that in modern criminal investigation, as in the natural sciences, technical considerations for ensuring the objectivity of visual representations used in criminal trials, such as lighting conventions for crime scene photographs and standardized markings on maps, are neither neutral nor natural. Instead, the appearance of visual evidence in the Thai legal system was shaped within a larger network of exchange in objects, practices, and formal conventions. So rather than merely guaranteeing factuality, the rules for producing legal evidence in Thailand are embedded with cultural norms; they are part of an ideological project played out at the level of surface appearances and through new technologies of representation.

About the speaker

Samson Lim is an Assistant Professor in History at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. He received his Ph.D. in History at Cornell University. His research examines the connections between technology, capitalism, and cultural change. His first book, Siam’s New Detectives: Visualizing Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand (University of Hawaii Press, 2016), is a history of the visual culture of policing and conspiracy theories in Thailand in the twentieth century. He is currently working on a new book that studies the visual and material culture of finance in early twentieth century Bangkok. Samson is also one of the principle leads of the Opportunity Lab at SUTD, an interdisciplinary teaching and research center that promotes social change through design and engineering projects throughout Southeast Asia.

Czechs on Ships Present and Past: Traveling and Writing 1867-2016 – a seminar by A/P Jan Mrazek (Wed, 5 October 2016)

Speaker: Assoc Prof Jan Mrazek (Department of Southeast Asian Studies, NUS)
Date: Wednesday, 5 October 2016
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


The seminar juxtaposes voyages of Czechs to Southeast Asia in colonial times and the speaker’s recent voyage by container ship from Rotterdam to Singapore. More a poetics of ship travel than its history, it explores the movement between, and the interpenetration of, past and present, imagination and physical actuality, writing and traveling, all at once. How can our own journeys help us grasp more intensely the experiences of past travelers, as well as our relationship with them, our nearness and our distance? How can old travelogues today enrich our perception of ships, the sea, the world, our travels? How is the past present, how is it gone? The seminar does not aim to theorize but to perform these questions. It is really just about ships.

About the speaker

Jan Mrázek is Associate Professor in the Department of Southeast Asian Studies. Related publications include “Czech Tropics” (Archipel, 2013) and “Returns to the Wide World: Errant Bohemian Images of Race and Colonialism,” to appear in Studies in Travel Writing.


Straits Settlements’ Flooding: Considering Nature-Induced Disasters in Historic Context – a seminar by Dr Fiona Williamson (Wed, 14 September 2016)

Speaker: Dr Fiona Williamson (Research Fellow, NUS Asia Research Institute)
Date: Wednesday, 14 September 2016
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS8, Level 6, Conference Room (06-46)


This presentation considers the nineteenth century history of flood disasters in colonial Singapore and, to a lesser extent, Kuala Lumpur. It pays close attention to how the British authorities understood and reacted to serious inundations and adapted their policy in accordance. Disaster, and disaster governance shaped the development of both towns, each managed through a combination of local municipal councils, the British government in India, and in London. This was an arrangement that both hindered and advanced flood management. The premise is that flood history can be a window into how knowledge was shaped, shared and developed. It will consider how contemporary governments thought about floods, from cause, to impact, to future mitigation. Moreover, it will contend that long-term context and precedent allows fresh perspectives on urban disaster today. We can learn from patterns of flood frequency, intensity, and geographic impact; assess their correspondence to rainfall and/or ENSO, or human urban environmental impact. We can also learn from past failures and successes in prevention methods and determine not to repeat the same errors. This is important in addressing disasters in todays complex anthropogenic world. Based on primary archival sources relating to governance and urban development in the British Straits Settlements, including colonial records and contemporary newspapers, it takes a multi-disciplinary approach to conventional historical analysis.

About the speaker

Dr Williamson received her PhD in History from the University of East Anglia in 2009. Since then she has been working as a lecturer in the UK and in Asia, as well as working with the UK Meteorological Office on a series of projects relating to historic weather. Her current research focuses on the interconnections between flooding and urban development in Singapore and colonial Malaya. Her published and forthcoming work examines a range of issues connected to flooding, public health, climate, and the history of meteorology. She is especially interested in comprehending how cities developed in response to past floods and exploring how historic events provide critical context for our modern city. The history of science, floods and urban governance provide the framework for better understanding these processes.


Dr Williamson has commenced a two-year appointment as a Research Fellow in the Asian Urbanism cluster with effect from 4 July 2016. While at ARI, Dr Williamson will join the Disaster Governance project team, continuing her work on flooding and meteorological history in British Southeast Asia with the expectation of expanding this into a monograph on space, floods, and society in Singapore.

Subjects of Politics: From Disagreement to Dictatorship in Thailand – a seminar by Dr Eli Elinoff (Wed, 13 April 2016)

Speaker: Dr Eli Elinoff (Postdoctoral Fellow, NUS Department of Sociology & Asia Research Institute)
Date: Wednesday, 12 April 2016
Time: 4:00pm – 5:30pm
Venue: AS3, Level 6, SEAS Seminar Room (06-20)

In May of 2014, the Thai military deposed elected Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. The coup was the 12th successful coup in the nation’s history and the second military coup in less than a decade. Since the takeover, the chief aim of the military government has been to bring order to the country by silencing disagreement. In this paper, I trace the descent from democracy to dictatorship to understand its implications for our understanding of both Thailand and politics, more generally. I do so from the vantage point of urban squatter communities in Northeastern Thailand. By following the pathways of disagreement in these settlements, I show how shifting notions of the legitimate political subject reveals an undecidable tension between two different social hierarchies—one steeped in a complex admixture of Thai nationalism and Theravada Brahmanism, the other of horizontally composed commensurable beings promised by democracy and capitalist consumption. I show how residents’ engagements with projects preceding the coup reveal the mechanisms through which progressive actors employed post-political forms of governance to hold the old hierarchy in place while attempting to slowly rearrange it. I also analyze the complex ways these policies failed to fully gentrify politics, as residents made claims to and through disagreement. I argue then that democratization does not simply rearrange institutions, but more fundamentally the ontological subjects of politics themselves.

About the speaker
Eli Elinoff is currently a joint-postdoctoral fellow in Asian Urbanisms at the National University of Singapore in the Department of Sociology and the Asia Research Institute. He received his PhD in Anthropology in 2013 from the University of California, San Diego. His research has been published in South East Asia History, Political and Legal Anthropology Review, and Contemporary Southeast Asia. He is currently working on a book manuscript entitled Architects of Citizenship: Politics and City-Making in Northeastern Thailand that examines struggles over citizenship, development, and housing in the city of Khon Kaen. He is also working on a second multi-sited ethnographic research project examining ecologies of concrete and the politics of the urban environment in Bangkok in the wake of the 2011 floods.In July of 2016 he will become a Lecturer in Cultural Anthropology at Victoria University of Wellington (NZ).