FASS@NUS Day 2010: The exciting world of Arts and Social Sciences beckons

by Student Blogger Denise Lee

Global Financial Crisis. WIKI leaks. Climate change.  Popular Culture. Ethics. These are some of the interesting topics to be presented by speakers from the various FASS Departments. Come 22 May 2010, FASS will be launching its first-ever theme-based Open House Talks featuring diverse topics that traverse the realm of monetary issues to metaphysical contemplations. Through the specialised talks conducted by each Department, prospective students can gain new perspectives on the myriad fields of study in FASS. With 15 Departments, 19 major subjects, 28 minor programmes and 12 languages offered by the Centre for Language Studies, students are certainly spoilt for choice in their academic pickings. Bewildered by the vast range of subjects available? Fret not, FASS@NUS Day will be the perfect opportunity to explore the scope and nature of each subject and have your nagging questions answered by our friendly lecturers.

Shedding light on the purpose and aims of the talks are four speakers representing the three main divisions of FASS, namely, Asian Studies, Humanities and Social Sciences. Let’s hear them share their views on the chosen topics for the Open House Talks.

Department of Japanese Studies (Asian Studies)
Assistant Professor Simon Andrew Avenell
Talk Title: The Real Geisha: Sex, Shamisen, and Slapstick

1. Why have you decided to do this topic for the Open House?

I chose this topic because I want to show prospective students the ways we can use social science to challenge stereotypes and misunderstandings about other cultures and societies.  In this lecture, I want to address some of the stereotypes about the Japanese geisha and Japan more generally and also show the usefulness of historical inquiry in area studies.

 2. How is this topic relevant to students today?

Rather than the topic, I think the relevance has to do with the mode of thinking I want to show students. While knowing facts and details is certainly important, I see most relevance in using the content (in other words, a discussion about geisha) to develop a critical and analytical approach to
social phenomena. Put simply, it’s all about challenging sacred cows. 

3. How can students benefit from this talk?

The benefit is in the approach I employ: critical historical analysis. I want students to be able to use their critical thinking abilities to look in behind broad generalisations and stereotypes to develop a more nuanced picture of the world. I think one of the greatest benefits of a liberal arts education is that it can help us reach our full potential as concerned, thoughtful, and empathetic human beings. It helps us become the civilised people we should be. No other area of study puts this kind of emphasis on intellectual development. I think students will benefit from my talk if they recognise these wider implications and, more importantly, try and use such modes of thinking in their everyday lives. The benefit is not monetary, it has to do with becoming a decent, reflective, and sympathetic individual.
Of course, from a historical perspective, citizens in the most economically, politically, and scientifically successful nations have always possessed these values. Scientific and technological knowledge alone is no guarantee of success and, conversely, can have tragic outcomes. The key for
individual, national, and international success is to combine the scientific and the technical with a resolutely humanist stance.   

Department of English Language and Literature (Humanities)
Associate Professor Vincent Ooi
Talk Title: How English is evolving into a language we may not even understand

1. Why have you decided to do this topic for the Open House?

The title of this presentation is taken from a news article that describes how teams of language police ‘scoured Beijing on a mission to wipe out all…bad English signage’ during the China Olympics in 2008. Now that Singapore will be hosting the Youth Olympic Games soon, should our own language police scour the country to wipe out all instances of ‘bad English’ signage?  What constitutes ‘bad English’? Singlish? Standard English?   In the article, the author somewhat erroneously conflates ‘Chinglish’, ‘Singlish’, and ‘Singapore English’.  This presentation seeks to clarify such notions.

2.  How is this topic relevant to students today?

Such notions need to be clarified, especially when English has become the leading global language which is at the same time more ‘pluralistic’: there are issues of ‘linguistic ownership’, ‘local cultural norms’, and ‘international intelligibility’. We know that the English used in, say, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Australia can be noticeably different from one another, and can lead to cross-cultural miscommunication. Further, as students are connected to the Internet a lot nowadays (e.g. Facebook, blogs, online chatrooms, and instant messaging), they need to be able to differentiate such electronic language from the one used in formal spoken and written communication.

3. How can students benefit from this talk?

Students can better understand the issues needed to resolve the inherent tensions between local and international English. English as a linguistic entity in Singapore may be divided into three parts: standard English (which usually means standard British/US English), educated, ‘standard’ Singaporean English and Colloquial Singapore English, also popularly known as ‘Singlish’.  Singaporean English includes such terms as handphone (or mobile phone), killer litter (heavy objects thrown from high rise buildings that can injure passers-by below) and Singapore Girl (advertising depiction of Singapore Airline’s flight stewardesses).  ‘Singlish’ terms include kiasu (from Hokkien Chinese, to mean ‘afraid to lose out’), cut (verb) [=to overtake: His car cut mine) and blur (adj) [=to describe a person as dazed].  Highly proficient speakers of English in Singapore should have the ability to shift between standard English, educated Singaporean English and ‘Singlish’ to suit the occasion. On the other hand, less educated speakers can access only ‘Singlish’.

Department of Psychology (Social Sciences)
Dr Marlene Lee
Department of Social Work ( Social Sciences)
Associate Professor Ngiam Tee Liang
Talk Title: Your money or your life – that’s the gamble!

These speakers will be offering different views on the same topic.

1. Why have you decided to do this topic for the Open House?

ML: We picked the topic of problem gambling because it is a contemporary issue that has a lot relevance to our society. Aside from modern-day relevance, problem gambling is an interesting topic to examine in the local context because gambling is a culturally-accepted behaviour among certain ethnic communities. Thus, the line between acceptable and excessive levels of gambling is not always so clear. 

NTL: The topic allows us to look at the impact of problem gambling on individuals, families and the community (finances, marital conflict, family relations and other psycho-social issues), and how social work can help the individual, family and the community in a holistic way (from individual therapy, to family intervention to community building).

2. How is this topic relevant to students today?

ML: The opening of the IRs has generated a lot of interest and concern about the impact of gambling at all levels – individual, family, and society. Thus, one could say that public awareness about problem gambling has grown tremendously in the last few years. It goes without saying that appropriate mechanisms of prevention and intervention (e.g., specialised gambling addiction treatment, education and awareness campaigns, socio-legal measures) have to be in place to address the adverse consequences of problem gambling. This in turn implies a need for increased mental health human resources, e.g., psychologists, social workers, counsellors. Consequently, students who are interested to pursue careers in mental health may want to hear more about the impact of gambling and to explore the role of mental health professionals in the field of gambling addiction. 

NTL: For Social Work, we wish to point to the many facets of social work and let students see the bigger picture of social work — from preventive to remedial social interventions.  These include social policy analysis, organisational planning and management, programme development, service delivery and social casework with individuals and families, among other approaches.

By having a bird’s eye-view of the different intervention approaches, students will learn that Social Work is a very versatile applied discipline, offering a wide variety of theoretical knowledge and people-skills in understanding and working with individuals, groups and communities. They will also find practical benefits in applying the knowledge and skills gained from studying Social Work into their personal and professional growth and development.

3. How can students benefit from this talk?

ML: Students will have the opportunity to learn about problem gambling and the potential impact of the IRs at the individual and societal level. They will also gain an understanding of factors that may contribute to help-seeking behaviours in people who develop problems with gambling. Finally, they will gain insight into the role of psychologists in aiding prevention and treatment efforts.

NTL: The topic can help students see how Social Work as a profession is relevant, practical and intellectually stimulating. Students can see how Social Work professionals identify and respond to social issues from macro- (policy-level) to micro- (individual-level) perspectives.

Students can expect an eye-opening introduction to the various disciplines from the experts themselves. For those seeking an enriching educational journey in the fascinating world of Arts and Social Sciences, FASS@NUS Day is an event not to be missed. Mark 22 May 2010 on your calendar and take the first step towards shaping your future!

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