Multicultural carnivals and the politics of the spectacle in global Singapore
Daniel PS GOH
ABSTRACT Carnivals have historically played an important role in the multicultural life of Singapore society. This article looks at multicultural carnivals that today play a key role in the transformation of Singapore into a “global city” and its attendant cultural politics. I invoke Bakhtin’s observation that formerly subversive carnivals have become mere spectacles as my starting point. I analyze two carnivals that engage emergent racial-class fissures on the terrain of the Debord-ian spectacular. The first is the annual Racial Harmony Day carnival organized by the state in a model public housing town, which facilitates the integration of the concentrated and diffuse forms of the spectacle to suture the racial-class fissures with cosmopolitan interpellations and imaginations of the “global city.” The second is a two-month carnival organized by a group of artists to make visible an elided aspect of the fissures—low-wage foreign workers—to critically engage the new “global city” society of the spectacle.
Keywords: multiculturalism, carnivals, spectacle, cultural politics, global city
Daniel PS Goh is Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology and Research Associate at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore. He specializes in comparative-historical sociology and cultural studies, but counts urbanisms, social ecology and comparative religion among his research interests. He is co-editor of Race and Multiculturalism in Malaysia and Singapore (2009). His current research is on the postcoloniality of global city-making in Hong Kong, Penang and Singapore.