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Congratulations to Professor Chua Beng Huat, Department of Sociology on earning a spot on the Foreign Affairs Magazine’s The Best of Books 2018! In his book titled “Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore”, Prof Chua examines the rejection of Western-style liberalism in Singapore, and the People’s Action Party (PAP) forging of an independent, non-Western communitarian ideology.

Prof Chua focuses on three areas in his tracing of the evolution of Singapore’s communitarian ideology: public housing, multiracialism, and state capitalism, each of which poses different challenges to liberal approaches. Consequently, the PAP looks instead to the governing principle of social democracy, which emphasises society over the individual, pervasiveness of the state, and social redistributive policies.

“What we have in Singapore at the beginning of the 21st century is a PAP-dominant, single-party government which ideologically espouses communitarianism, politically continues to maintain the formal features of an electoral democracy, and continues to pursue economic growth, full employment, and the improvement of material life for Singaporeans – efficiently and without corruption” – Professor Chua Beng Huat


The book also examines the PAP’s challenges from an educated populace that demands greater voice, which has led to the liberalisation of the cultural sphere, greater responsiveness and shifts in political rhetoric – but “all without disrupting the continuing hegemony of the PAP in government,” argues Professor Chua.

"Contrary to the conventional wisdom, he argues that neither repression nor a cultural preference for authoritarianism explains the regime’s success; rather, the state’s successful policies—rooted in social democratic ideology and meritocratic leadership—and the island nation’s strategic vulnerability explain why the population has accepted an elitist, repressive system for over 50 years and why it will probably continue to do so." writes Foreign Affairs reviewer Andrew J. Nathan.

Congratulations on your remarkable achievement, Prof Chua!

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Chua Beng Huat is Provost Chair Professor in the Department of Sociology, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, National University of Singapore. His book, “Liberalism Disavowed: Communitarianism and State Capitalism in Singapore” (2017), A Choice Recommended Title and a Foreign Affairs “Book of the Year” 2018, is available online and at all major bookstores.

As part of its ScholarBank@NUS initiative, NUS Libraries has recently made publicly available 10 theses written by local famous personalities while they were students at NUS. Included among these 10 personalities, who are also FASS alumni, are Emeritus Senior Minister Mr Goh Chok Tong, singer-actress Ms Joanna Dong and accomplished writer Dr Catherine Lim.

What is perhaps most surprising in this anthology of theses is that Ms Dong’s sociological research proved to be quite perceptive in identifying the paradoxical intimate-yet-anonymous nature of online communication (back then still referred to as computer-mediated communication). This is especially so as social media was nowhere as popular as it is today. Recalling the motivation behind her research, Ms Dong said:

When I chose my thesis topic, I had done so with some childish glee at the prospect of doing some serious writing about a social experience considered back then by most to be “fluff”. Now that social media has become the primary obsession of the modern person, I feel strangely vindicated, as if I had somehow foresaw its rise to significance.

Curious to find out what research interests the other nine famous FASS alumni had during their university days? Click here to find out!

In conjunction with NUS Day of Service 2018, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences collaborated with the NUS Economics Alumni and organised a trip to the Gardens by the Bay for beneficiaries of a children’s charity on 1 September 2018.

The event brought together over 100 FASS alumni, staff and students, and children and their caregivers from Club Rainbow, a charity dedicated to help children with various chronic and life-threatening illnesses. Not only did the children and befrienders enjoy a leisurely walk among the beautiful plants, flowers and the indoor waterfall at the Flower Dome and Cloud Forest conservatories, they were treated to a spectacular display of sunflowers in the special “Sunflower Surprise” exhibition at the Flower Dome.

The day at Gardens by the Bay ended with a hearty meal at Texas Chicken. Much to the joy of the children, one of the FASS students wore the costume of Arthur, the red panda Faculty mascot, to pose for pictures while another student made sculpture balloons for them.

Professor Robbie Goh, Dean of FASS, who was at the event, said: “I am very happy to see the Club Rainbow children enjoy themselves today and I would like to thank our student and alumni volunteers for making this event a success. I look forward to more opportunities for FASS to participate in such meaningful events in the future.”

On Friday, 24 August 2018, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong helped launch a new book on Singapore’s asset building policies. Co-edited by Dr S. Vasoo from the Department of Social Work and Associate Professor Bilveer Singh from the Department of Political Science, “Critical Issues in Asset Building in Singapore’s Development” discusses how Singapore’s strong emphasis on asset building policies in its model of governance has facilitated the nation’s growth since independence. (From Left to Right: A/P Irene Ng, Dr S. Vasoo, PM Lee Hsien Loong, A/P Bilveer Singh, A/P Bernard Loo, and Dr Norshahril Saat)

 


 

PM Lee delivering his speech at the Book Launch


“Singapore’s asset-building approach emphasises individual work ethic and personal responsibility supported by government policies and resources”, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Friday. Citing examples of Housing Development Board (HDB) flats and the Central Provident Fund (CPF) as tangible assets that contributed to Singapore’s success, Mr Lee shared that Singaporeans’ support for these policies also constituted intangible assets that underpin Singapore’s society and unity by holding us together as one people.

Mr Lee made these comments at the book launch of Critical Issues in Asset Building in Singapore’s Development, co-edited by Dr S. Vasoo, Former Member of Parliament (1984 – 2001) and Associate Professorial Fellow at the Department of Social Work, and Associate Professor Bilveer Singh from the Department of Political Science, NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Among the policies discussed in the book are multiculturalism, accessible housing, social mobility for low-income families, water resource management, and national conscription.

The launch saw an impressive turnout with esteemed members across Singapore’s four generations of leaders in attendance (From left to right: Mr Ng Kah Ting, Mr Tang See Chim, Mr Ong Pang Boon, PM Lee Hsien Loong, Prof Robbie Goh, and Minister Ong Ye Kung)

In his speech, PM Lee further elaborated on the Government’s motivations behind selling Housing Development Board (HDB) flats to Singaporeans on 99-year leases, in place of alternatives such as instituting controlled rents, providing rental flats, or simply leaving housing to the private market. In addition to ensuring that housing remains affordable for Singaporeans, Mr Lee shares, the sale of HDB flats inculcates in its owners with a sense of responsibility and interest in the long-term value of the property, and, correspondingly, “the society and system on which the value of his home depends”.


Another key initiative is the Central Provident Fund (CPF). While originally designed to help Singaporeans save for retirement, its purpose has expanded over time to include savings for housing, medical, and education needs as well, all of which helps Singaporeans build up their assets. Acknowledging alternative and divergent voices, Mr Lee emphasised that constructive debate should be encouraged, as it will “help us understand issues better, come up with better solutions, see things in a fresh perspective, and move debate, policy, and outcomes forward”.

PM Lee chats with students from the Department of Social Work and the Department of Political Science, NUS Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences


Both authors also gave opening remarks at the Book Launch that echoed PM Lee’s emphasis on people being Singapore’s key asset. Calling the book the brainchild of Dr S. Vasoo, A/P Singh maintains that Singapore is not special because of its financial assets. After all, “this is something that oil or gold rich states can easily do.” Rather, A/P Singh shares, Singapore’s success is owed to the social and political stability that has prevailed since independence, a stability that is built on its exceptional people, forward-looking, optimistic, and armed with a strong survivalist orientation; and its people-centric leadership that pioneered asset-building initiatives.

 


The book makes explicit the role of the first 3 generations of leaders that contributed to the construction of what is known as modern Singapore, A/P Singh shares. “It is as if each brick that was laid to build a complex called Singapore - something that was the function of dreams, visions, nightmares, hard work, team spirit and a sense of unity that is hard to come by in a highly fractured small state surrounded by challenging geopolitics.”

A/P Singh’s sentiments were shared by Dr Vasoo, who remarked that Singaporeans need to continue to work on and strengthen the foundation laid by pioneers. If we do not work in close unison, Dr Vasoo cautions, “our asset building efforts will be slowly eroded and Singapore will not be an attractive place to live and work”. “With good governance, social stability and better people, Singapore will be able to further enhance its asset building capacities and encourage the succeeding younger generation of Singaporeans to design new socio-economic and political scaffolds that make our society sustainable,” Dr Vasoo adds.

“Critical Issues in Asset Building in Singapore’s Development” is available at all major bookstores including Kinokuniya, Times the Bookstore, MPH, and Popular. It retails at S$36 (paperback). More information about the book can be found at: https://www.worldscientific.com/worldscibooks/10.1142/10976

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