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Title: In sight and in order : racial legibility, racializing surveillance, and Singapore's Malay problem, 1980-1990
Authors: Muhammad Hydar Saharudin
Keywords: Humanities::History
Issue Date: 2021
Publisher: Nanyang Technological University
Source: Muhammad Hydar Saharudin (2021). In sight and in order : racial legibility, racializing surveillance, and Singapore's Malay problem, 1980-1990. Master's thesis, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore.
Abstract: To the extent that surveillance has implemented distinct notions of life and rule, it has been conditioned by particular social, political, and material categories. Race has been one such determinant, and its resulting differentials have been especially applicable to Singapore’s indigenous Malay minority. Since the colonial age, the Malays of Singapore have struggled against their persistent marginality. In official and mainstream discourses, this peripheral state has been explained by fictions of Malay deviance, deficiency, and duplicity. This materiality and narrative has been popularly known as the “Malay problem”. This thesis explores the relationship between racial legibility, racializing surveillance, and the “Malay problem” in independent Singapore. It contends that the “Malay problem” has been a problem of racial legibility, produced and prolonged by the government’s pursuit to render Malay-Singaporeans legible, mostly in accordance with the “Malay problem”, and later, a programme of Sinicization. In this race-making, the government’s surveillance apparatus has been utilized or repurposed to construct racial legibility, but at the expense of Malays outside or opposed to the selected vision. Malay marginality has thus been a major outcome of such categorical simplifications and foreclosures. This thesis makes its case by charting the trajectories of the “Malay problem” and Sinicization, and how both would combine, from the 1980s onwards, to constitute Singapore’s racial order. It examines several manifestations of that hierarchy: the arrival of the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) in 1989, and the episodes that preceded and heralded it, such as the “Herzog Affair” in 1986 and the quotas on Malay student enrolment in 1988. In particular, the EIP was implemented after certain Malay movements and discourses had frustrated the PAP government’s racial sight and order. Consequently, government surveillance was enacted on the targeted Malay activities, where it problematized and re-arranged them back into more amenable positions and proportions. This thesis suggests, then, that the “Malay problem” has placed Singapore’s Malay minority, or those located as Malay, into a loop of marginality. Collective escape from this shared condition will be elusive as long as the “Malay problem” remains a primary condition and consequence of legibility, surveillance, and the wider world that they create.
DOI: 10.32657/10356/155047
Schools: School of Humanities 
Rights: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License (CC BY-NC 4.0).
Fulltext Permission: embargo_20260131
Fulltext Availability: With Fulltext
Appears in Collections:SoH Theses

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