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Thematic Issues
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For more than two decades Singapore’s economy has been one of the success stories of industrializing Asia. Economic development has been outward looking and oriented to international markets, such that the Singaporean experience can be said to epitomize internationalization. For that reason Singapore is a useful case study of the stresses and transformations which internationalization can generate, highlighting both the benefits and the pitfalls. While other recent analyses of internationalization have focused on the consequences for national sovereignty, this article concentrates principally on the social and cultural dimensions of the process.

We begin by charting the trajectory of Singapore’s economic development and developmental strategies since independence. This provides essential background for understanding the social, political and cultural ramifications of Singapore’s outstanding economic success. Exploring the complex connections between internationalization and changing cultural values, the article examines the effects in a number of key areas. We consider the impact on ethnicity, gender relations, interpersonal behavior, management practices, consumer culture, and Singaporean culture generally.

In all these aspects of Singaporean life, the government has perceived an erosion of the cultural values which it regards as integral to both economic success and its own hold on power: acceptance of authority, deference to elders, self-discipline, community and concern for others. The government has therefore attempted, rather quixotically, to shore up these values. We suggest that the reactive policies of cultural containment introduced for this purpose can only achieve partial and short term success, given the globalizing momentum of Singaporean commerce. We conclude that, in spite of official efforts to offset its cultural consequences, international integration has in fact opened up possibilities, opportunities which might be turned to advantage by Singaporeans seeking social and political reform.


Singapore - Economic Policy - Ethnicity - Gender - Cultural Policy - Managerial Values


Christine DORAN is a senior lecturer in Southeast Asian Studies in the Faculty of Law, Business and Arts at the Northern Territory University, Darwin, Australia. Her research interests include ethnicity and gender issues in island Southeast Asia, both in the contemporary period and during the colonial era. She has previously published widely on Southeast Asian history and politics, in particular on economic transformation, and reconstructions of Chinese ethnic identities in Singapore.

Jim JOSE is a study skills consultant with the Equity and Student Access department at the Northern Territory University in Darwin, Australia. He has lectured on politics and political theory at various Australian universities. His research interests include gender, political economy, sexuality and the state. He has previously published on the Straits Philosophical Society of Singapore, and in such journals as Journal of Contemporary Asia; Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies; Women and Politics; and the Australian Journal of Law & Society.


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