發文作者:Albert Tzeng | 2009/05/16

Sense of Fear: A Fieldnote from Singapore

I have to admit, I’ve underestimated the difficulty in understanding the local context in Singapore. Many things were not as straightforward as it seem. There were problems at three levels. First is a lack of ‘articulation’ in some critical issue in both the documented resources or from my informants’ accounts— whether it’s because of a lack of explicit acknowledgement or forms of (self-)censorship. Secondly, there exist multiple versions of interpretations of many incidents, even at the very factual level (e.g. the merge of US and NU in 1980, and the leave of some critical scholars). At last, my perspectives might still be biased. I do feel that I need to get myself exposed to the historical milieu of Singapore longer to reach a level of understanding that is fairer to the people living on this island.

One single thing that struck me most is the apparent sense of ‘fear’, expressed by many people I’ve talked to, of venturing across some ‘hidden line’ – though I could still not be able to identify what those lines really are (is it more about ‘what’ you said, ‘how’ you said, or ‘where’ you said?), and whether the ‘threat’ they appeared to be fear of is real or merely a socially-constructed myth. Many people I’ve talked to have associated this sense of fear with the stories of how some critical opponents were treated brutally or swept out from the university by the PAP. But how many of these legends were real oppression? How many is merely self-exaggerated sense of threat perceived by those runaway? And moreover, how many were produced by guys exploiting the general stereo-typed impression of Singapore for disguising their academic incompetence?

Well apparently much historical works must be carried out to settle all those controversies, but at least I can ease my tension by reminding myself that this isn’t my real mission. For my project, I shall just focus on assessing how those issues is being perceived by my target population and how such discursive atmosphere is shaping their behavior, instead of making judgment on the validity of their stated sense of threat.

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