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Tan, K.P. (guest editor) (2023) Special Issue on Narrating Cold Wars, Global Storytelling: Journal of Digital and Moving Images, 2(2).


"This special issue of Global Storytelling centers on the narratives and narration that have featured in the ways that people during the Cold War made sense of their world for themselves and for others, in the ways that people today try to understand the Cold War of the past, and in the ways that people today think about their contemporary world and where it might be headed."

Available here

Tan, K.P. (2023) “Cold-War and New-Cold-War narratives”, Global Storytelling: Journal of Digital and Moving Images, 2(2).

"The historic Cold War, although formally concluded by 1991, continues to widely and to deeply influence, even shape the contours of, the way we think and talk about geopolitics and geoeconomics in the present time. Foreign policy professionals, journalists, scholars, and producers and consumers of popular culture readily turn to tropes, frames, and mental models derived sometimes very literally from this grand-historic episode. Thus, we tend to understand developments in Sino-US relations today, in the first instance at least, through comparisons with the intense superpower rivalry between the United States and the Soviet Union in the bipolar world of the Cold War. By referring to the articles in this special issue on narrating cold wars, its guest editor describes how such frames, models, and mentalities, as they are realized in and conveyed through narratives, can be challenged in a variety of ways."

Available here

Tan, K.P. (2018) "A thoughtfully pragmatic Singapore", Commentary, 27, 21-27.


"In the next decade, Singapore’s most challenging problems will likely result from two mutually reinforcing global trends. They are neoliberal globalisation and authoritarian populism..."


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Tan, K.P. and A. Boey (2017) "Singapore in 2016: life after Lee Kuan Yew", Southeast Asian Affairs, 315-334.

"For Singapore, 2015 was an extraordinary year. Proud of their country's numerous accomplishments, Singaporeans celebrated their fiftieth year of independence and participated in a year-long series of events and projects that were branded SG50. They mourned the death of their founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and wondered what the future would bring in his towering absence. Would there be an SG100 for Singapore and, if so, what would it be like? Also in 2015, the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) surprised many observers by winning 69.9 per cent of votes, and 83 out of 89 seats, in a general election in which all seats were, for the first time, contested. This suggested that opposition parties, which had been making strong inroads since the general election of 2006, were not after all going to have an easy time strengthening their presence in Singapore's government and politics. Liberal democratization was not going to be a straightforward linear process in Singapore. In the afterglow of its convincing electoral victory, a more confident PAP government concentrated on consolidating its power and protecting Singapore's interests in a post–Lee Kuan Yew world. In his National Day message, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong focused on the theme of political, economic, and social stability in Singapore amidst an increasingly uncertain global and regional environment."

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Tan, K.P. (2016) "Choosing what to remember in neoliberal Singapore: The Singapore Story, state censorship and state-sponsored nostalgic", Asian Studies Review, 40(2), 231-249.


"This article interrogates the persistence of heavy-handed censorship of political films in Singapore at a time of cultural liberalisation when the state has generally shown greater tolerance for alternative political expression in theatre, the literary arts, academia and public events. Part of this has to do with the focus of these films on political dissidents and their greater capacity to present a fundamental challenge to The Singapore Story, which is the regime-legitimising official account of Singapore’s history. It also has to do with the power and outreach of relatively low-budget independent films and the documentary genre in particular to evoke alternative histories vividly, give voice to the silenced, and channel these voices digitally into the collective cinematic and social media experience of the present. With the jubilee celebrations of 2015, the ruling party has been working hard to regain hegemony after experiencing its worst electoral losses in the 2011 general elections. Its main approach for achieving this has been to sponsor widespread national nostalgia coupled with highly selective censorship of political films that challenge the dominant official discourse in ways that can erode the government’s electoral dominance and political authority."

Available here

doi: 10.1080/10357823.2016.1158779

​​Tan, K.P. (2016) "Singapore in 2015: Regaining hegemony", Asian Survey, 56(1), 108-114.


"In 2015, Singaporeans voted in parliamentary elections. The incumbent People’s Action Party won a landslide victory, in contrast with its performance in the 2011 elections, which had been the worst since Singapore gained independence. The party successfully reinvented itself as a more left-leaning and responsive party in government. Its public image improved by its association with Lee Kuan Yew, who passed away in this jubilee year."

Available here

doi: 10.1525/AS.2016.56.1.108

Tan, K.P. (2015) "Singapore in 2014: Adapting to the new normal", Asian Survey, 55(1), 157-164.


"In the 'new normal' following the 2011 general election, Singapore seems poised for further development toward liberal democracy. However, the ruling People’s Action Party is attempting to reinvent itself and regain its hegemonic position, which requires finding credible solutions for very challenging problems to do with policy, communication, and public image."

Available here

doi: 10.1525/AS.2015.55.1.157

Tan, K.P. (2013) "Forum theater in Singapore: Resistance, containment, and commodifcation in an advanced industrial society", positions; asia critique, 21(1), 189-221.

"Forum theater is a radical technique of political theater originating within totalitarian societies of Latin America as a revolutionary device for the oppressed classes but increasingly transposed into techniques for dealing with internalized oppressions (or repressions) that afflict the bourgeois classes within advanced capitalist-industrial societies. In this article, I will treat forum theater as performative events in which complex and contingent negotiations interpret and activate the form in varied ways, according to varied commitments. In this regard, I will explore the difference the Singapore situation makes to an understanding of the global circulation and local appropriation of forum theater. Specifically, I will critically analyze the birth, death, and rebirth of forum theater as a situated practice in Singapore. That forum theater reemerged as a legitimate part of the global city’s state-led and economically motivated artistic and cultural renaissance — a decade after its proscription by the state in 1994 — calls into question the extent of its radicalism today, when the authoritarian-capitaliststate continues to appropriate the arts in order to mobilize subjects for a depoliticized creative economy."

Available here

doi: 10.1215/10679847-1894326


Tan, K.P. (2012) "The Ideology of pragmatism: Neo-liberal globalisation and political authoritarianism in Singapore", Journal of Contemporary Asia, 42(1), 67-92.


"This article uncovers the strongly ideological quality in Singapore's theory and practice of pragmatism. It also points to a strongly pragmatic quality in the ideological negotiations that play out within the dynamics of hegemony. In this complex relationship, the combination of ideological and pragmatic manoeuvring over the decades has resulted in the historic political dominance of the People's Action Party (PAP) government in partnership with global capital. But in an evolving, diversifying and globalising society, this manoeuvring has also engendered a number of mismatched expectations. It has also seen a greater sensitivity and attention to the inherent ideological contradictions and socio-economic inequalities that may erode what has been a relatively stable partnership between state and capital. This article argues that Singapore's one-party dominant state is the result of continuous ideological work that deploys the rhetoric of pragmatism to link the notion of Singapore's impressive success and future prospects to its ability to attract global capital. In turn, this relies on maintaining a stable political system dominated by an experienced, meritocratic and technocratic PAP government. While this Singaporean conventional wisdom has supported the political and economic interests of the state and global capital in a period of neo-liberal globalisation, its internal contradictions and external pressures have also begun to challenge its hegemonic pre-eminence."

Available here

doi: 10.1080/00472336.2012.634644

Tan, K.P. (2012) "Singapore in 2011: A 'new normal' in politics?", Asian Survey, 52(1), 220-226.


"In 2011, Singaporeans voted in parliamentary and presidential elections. The social networking media, dominated by alternative reporting and commentary, played a significant role in generating political interest and mobilizing oppositional thinking and support. Faced with a stronger oppositional presence and a politically emboldened electorate, the People's Action Party government won the elections but achieved its worst results ever."

Available here

doi: 10.1525/as.2012.52.1.220

Tan, K.P. (2011) "Violence and the supernatural in Singapore cinema", New Cinemas: Journal of Contemporary Film, 8(3), 213-223.


"This article surveys the approach of two important film-makers to the experience of redevelopment projects and the spatial reconfigurations of the urban landscape in Singapore. Tan Pin Pin's documentary Moving House depicts the violent collision of modern development with traditional rituals, showing the mass exhumation and transfer of graves to apartment-like style blocks to accommodate public housing construction. The ghosts of the dead return to such public housing estates in Eric Khoo's fiction film 12 Storeys (1997) to pass through the claustrophobic spaces of alienation containing the struggles of upward mobility. In such examples, the supernatural and fantastic provide a violent reconstruction of the social memory of postcolonial Singapore."

Available here

doi: 10.1386/ncin.8.3.213_1

Tan, K.P. (2010) "Pontianaks, ghosts and the possessed: Female monstrosity and national anxiety in Singapore cinema", Asian Studies Review, 34(2), 151-170.


"In its self-conscious transformation into a global city with a national culture that strains to include post-industrial values, contemporary Singapore has had to struggle with the repressed anxieties that threaten to return and disrupt its entry into the advanced stages of global capitalism. This article argues that such struggles are ritually performed in a selection of contemporary Singapore films that feature female monstrosity. By adopting the psychoanalytic theory of the monstrous-feminine developed by Barbara Creed (1993), this article analyses the pontianak of Malay folklore in Return to Pontianak (2001), the vengeful ghost of a murdered Filipina domestic worker in The Maid (2005), and the beautiful female psychologist possessed by the spirit of a tiger in Tiger's Whip (1998). The three Singapore films are modern rituals that serve to bring Singapore's national anxieties under control by subjecting female monstrosity – their grotesque embodiment – to patriarchal discipline."

Available here

doi: 10.1080/10357821003802037

Tan, K.P. (2009) "Service learning outside the U.S.: Initial experiences in Singapore's higher education", PS - Political Science and Politics, 42(3), 549-557.


"Service learning in higher education is an American creature. But outside the U.S., practices that resemble American service learning or that have begun self-consciously to describe themselves as “service learning” may also be found. This article gives an account of a proto-service-learning course on civil society in Singapore and discusses some similarities and differences between the U.S. and Singapore contexts in which the practices of service learning have evolved, identifying how this civil society course in particular was both a product of as well as a challenge to Singapore's somewhat different priorities in higher education, political culture, and attitudes to social justice and cultural diversity."

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Tan, K.P. (2009) "Who's afraid of Catherine Lim? The state in patriarchal Singapore", Asian Studies Review, 33(1), 43-62.


"This article will begin by discussing how images of the Singapore woman are constructed and legitimised in the public sphere. It will then demonstrate how these gender images have corresponded to the Singapore state’s ‘‘masculine’’ imageand society’s ‘‘emasculated’’, ‘‘infantilised’’, and ‘‘feminised’’ images. Through a close reading of the spectacular interactions in 1994 between Catherine Lim and the state, this article will identify a strategy for political engagement that can be radically transformative without provoking the full violence of the state. Such a strategy may offer civil activism a way out of the dilemma it has faced since Singapore’s independence, between being crushed by an antagonised strong state and labouring passively within the terms and boundaries set by an all-defining state."

Available here

doi: 10.1080/10357820802706290

Tan, K.P. (2008) "Meritocracy and elitism in a global city: Ideological shifts in Singapore", International Political Science Review , 29(1).


"The concept of meritocracy is unstable as its constituent ideas are potentially contradictory. The egalitarian aspects of meritocracy, for example, can come into conflict with its focus on talent allocation, competition, and reward. In practice, meritocracy is often transformed into an ideology of inequality and elitism. In Singapore, meritocracy has been the main ideological resource for justifying authoritarian government and its pro-capitalist orientations. Through competitive scholarships, stringent selection criteria for party candidacy, and high ministerial salaries, the ruling People's Action Party has been able to co-opt talent to form a "technocratic" government for an "administrative state." However, as Singapore becomes more embedded in the processes of globalization, it will experience new forms of national crisis, alternative worldviews through global communications technology, and a widening income gap, all of which will force its ideology of meritocracy to unravel."

Available here

doi: 10.1177/0192512107083445

Tan, K.P. (2007) "Singapore's National Day Rally speech: A site of ideological negotiation", Journal of Contemporary Asia, 37(3), 292-308.


"This article analyses the inaugural National Day Rally speeches of three Singapore prime ministers. It locates these speeches in the continuous ideological work that the People's Action Party (PAP) government has to do in order to maintain consensus and forge new alliances among classes and social forces that are being transformed by globalisation. Increasingly, these speeches have had to deal with the contradictions between nation-building and the tensions between the liberal and reactionary tendencies of the global city. It is argued that such a situation has made it futile for the government to attempt a straightforward ideological mobilisation of the people into a relatively homogeneous national community. The PAP government's ideological struggle to forge consensus has been balanced by a strategy of divide-and-rule. Ironically, the rally speeches have been as much about dividing as they have been about uniting."

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Tan, K.P. and G.J.J. Lee (2007) "Imagining the gay community in Singapore", Critical Asian Studies , 39(2), 179-204.


"Through an analysis of public responses to two separate but related events in contemporary Singapore — a church's claim that “homosexuals can change” and a former prime minister's published comments about openly gay civil servants in his administration — this article explores how a “gay community” has been imagined in Singapore, where homosexual acts remain illegal and where a “conservative majority” has been ideologically mobilized by the state and moral-reli-gious entrepreneurs. A close reading of the debates within SiGNeL (the Singapore Gay News List) and the local mass media reveals ideological struggles—and, in particular, gay activists' role in these struggles — surrounding a basic contradiction between Singapore's exclusionary laws and practices and official state rhetoric about active citizenship, social diversity, and gradual liberalization. This rhetoric is aimed primarily at attracting foreign talent and retaining mobile Singaporean talent in a globally integrated economy that is increasingly dependent upon creativity and innovation."

Available here

doi: 10.1080/14672710701339311

Tan, K.P. (2003) "Sexing up Singapore", International Journal of Cultural Studies, 6(4), 403-423.

"At least two significant obstacles today prevent Singapore from progressing economically: a population unable to reproduce itself; and a people that generally lack creativity and entrepreneurship. Both are unintended consequences of earlier authoritarian policies of a paternalistic and patriarchal postcolonial government. Singaporeans were industrialized, militarized, disciplined by a system of punishment and reward, and administered according to a technocratic rationality seeking to eliminate ‘irrational’ desires and the chaos of erotic instincts. Subsequently, an Asian values campaign helped to form a conservative, censorious and electorally significant moral majority. Today, Singaporean society is described as sexually repressed and repressive. Singapore’s ‘new economy’, however, requires not only a large enough workforce, but also a stimulating, non-repressive climate conducive to imagination, innovation and adventure, one that can also attract and retain globally mobile talent. This article explores the complications surrounding the government’s ‘sexing up’ policies relating to procreation, creative talent and the new economy."

Available here

doi: 10.1177/136787790364002

Tan, K.P. (2003) "Crisis, self-reflection, and rebirth in Singapore´s national life cycle", Southeast Asian Affairs, 2003(1), 241-258.


"The year was marked by economic and security crises on the one hand, and on the other by national consultation, self-reflection, and self-critique, all with the aim of remaking a nation that by most accounts has not even been made yet. But a nation-building project with a clear start and a conceivable moment of completion is little more than a fiction, though a useful one because it narrates (and so explains) past, present, and future in ways that orientate individual experiences and values to the needs, purposes, and destiny of the imaginary nation. But Singapore, as with all living nations, can only be alive if its meanings and purposes are the site of an inconclusive and dialectical relationship between conflict and celebration, a slippery and fragile balance that serves to re-enchant the national imagination within processes of globalization that curiously homogenize as much as they fragment." 

Available here

doi: 10.1355/SEAA03O

Tan, K.P. (2003) "Democracy and the grassroots sector in Singapore", Space and Polity, 7(1), 3-20.

"In independent Singapore, the extensive grassroots sector has been linked with party-political interests. The People's Action Party has relied on it for mass mobilisation and surveillance. Since the mid 1980s, the increasingly complex demands of the new economy and rising pressures for state welfare have been compelling reasons to evolve an open, consultative and participative culture. The developmentalist government regards an apolitical 'civic' society--not a politically antagonistic 'civil' society--as an important means of generating such a climate. The newly appointed Community Development Councils--local administration units in the PAP-controlled grassroots sector--can be read as a means of reducing the political risks of growing an increasingly necessary 'people sector'."

Available here

doi: 10.1080/13562570309245

Tan, K.P. (2002) "Storyspace: using hypertext in the classroom", The Technology Source, (July/August).


"The National University of Singapore created its University Scholars Programme to help produce graduates who are literate in a broad range of intellectual disciplines and particularly sensitive to the commonalities, differences, and connections among those disciplines. In small seminars, students learn how to read, write, and speak clearly, effectively, and critically. To achieve these objectives, I have used a hypertext writing tool called Storyspace; in this article, I assess the advantages of this tool in my work and outline the features that make it a valuable resource for teaching and learning."

Available here

Tan, K.P. (2001) "'Civil society' and the 'new economy' in patriarchal Singapore: Emasculating the political, feminising the public", Crossroads: an interdisciplinary journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 15(2), 95-122.


"The patriarchal mindset in Singapore operates most clearly in the practice of compulsory military service for males and population management through childbirth policies. This mindset offers important clues to understanding the political developments that have accompanied Singapore's transition from old economy to new, primarily the shift towards a politics of openness, consultation, and participation, to engage the wider talents and resources of a consensus-seeking 'people sector' focused on community care. The cautious People's Action Party government has engaged a restructured grassroots network under its control to spearhead and, in the process, monitor the efforts of a public confined largely to 'feminine' roles."

Available here

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