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Title: ‘Good fences make good neighbours’? Geographies of marginalisation: Housing Singapore’s foreign workers
Authors: Shaw, Brian
Rahil Ismail
Issue Date: Nov-2010
Citation: Shaw, B., & Rahil Ismail. (2010). ‘Good fences make good neighbours’? Geographies of marginalisation: Housing Singapore’s foreign workers. In C.H. Chang, L.C. Ho, T. Seow, & K. Chatterjea (Ed.), Proceedings Southeast Asian Geography Association Conference 2010. Retrieved from
Abstract: Singapore has one of the largest percentages of foreign-born workers in the world, and this labour has been a significant factor in the city-state’s transition from a ‘Third World to First World’ economy. Success in the Singapore case has been predicated upon a dual or segmented labour market which differentiates between the highly educated and highly skilled ‘expatriate talent’ sector and the semi- or unskilled ‘foreign worker’ group. The latter have been particularly prominent in the ‘five Cs’ of caring, carrying, catering, cleaning and construction but at the same time have been denied substantive citizenship, or sense of ‘belonging’, by virtue of their lower incomes and state restrictive practices which govern factors such as working conditions and access to housing. In this context the 2008 burst of NIMBYism over the proposed housing of foreign workers within the privileged upper middle-class neighbourhood of Serangoon Gardens seized Singaporean attention. While the purported issues were of congestion, overcrowding and traffic management the public debate was conducted amidst uncomfortable racist and classist subtexts. Yet the occurrence of such an episode had a certain degree of inevitability given the frenetic pressures of a globalising world on the city-state, and the government response accordingly developed as one of authoritative persuasion. Essentially, the issue of housing foreign workers has been integrated into the broad canvas of managing and remaking the Singapore identity as more Singaporeans find themselves living in the midst of foreign workers.
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