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Co-opting Nostalgia: Historical Tensions in Singapore

conference contribution
posted on 2023-05-24, 10:36 authored by Nicole TaruleviczNicole Tarulevicz
Singapore’s unusual national beginnings provide the context for the rise of nostalgia in this island state. That is, it is Singapore’s reluctant and comparatively recent, national birth that has partly been the catalyst for a growing nostalgia amongst the citizenry. The newness of Independent Singapore is offered, by both the state and scholars, as an explanation for its lack of historical engagement. The formulation of a national identity that relies for its substance on the construction of the future makes Singapore a rather unusual case among nations that are accustomed to invoking their past to legitimize the present. It is Singapore’s emphasis on the future and its ambivalence towards the past that has both stunted the development of critical historiography and provided something of a catalyst for nostalgia. The ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), in typical adaptive style, moved from overt hostility towards Singaporean History, to a position of embracing the new nostalgia. In order to make that nostalgia national useful the PAP devoted considerable attention to stipulating what is desirable nostalgia. Much of this nostalgia has been channeled into the preservation of buildings. Heritage has become an acceptable site of nostalgia. In a similar vein, nostalgia for material culture is seen as acceptable. Food too, is seen as a desirable area for Singaporeans to feel nostalgia about. While nostalgia can be seen as a response to both a future-focused regime and to prescriptive National History, the state has been quick to depoliticize nostalgia. A counter-culture is not being created; rather the state is attempting to co-opt nostalgia to help fulfill nationalist aims.


Publication title

Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Meeting, Published Abstracts


School of Humanities


Association for Asian Studies (AAS)

Place of publication

Boston, USA

Event title

Association for Asian Studies (AAS) Annual Meeting

Event Venue

Boston, USA

Date of Event (Start Date)


Date of Event (End Date)


Repository Status

  • Restricted

Socio-economic Objectives

Understanding Asia’s past

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