National Service: The Politicisation Of The Body In Singapore

Chris Hudson
Vol 28, Number 2, p.91
The body has been a principle of socio-political organisation throughout the development of Western modernity. It has also been a continuing preoccupation of Asian modernities, with a range of discursive culture-specific constructions of the body emerging in certain historical junctures and in specific sites. One site of particular interest is post-colonial Singapore. Since independence in 1965, the struggle over control of the bodies of Singaporeans has been played out in a discursive field in which the female body has become a symbol of cultural crisis. Much has been written about the visions of the apocalyptic end of the family and nation arising from women’s control of their own fertility that circulated in the discourses in the 1980s and 1990s. The female body was politicised as an element in the nation building process. It was also problematised as the site of threat to the social fabric and a key factor in the emergence of a politics of anxiety. Failure of individual women to reproduce at the level of the family was inscribed as a failure to reproduce the welfare of the nation. The male body is also politicised and located in the discourse of anxiety about social order, and the reproduction of the nation’s security. While the body can be instrumental in the nation building process and a key site of discipline, it is also a site for conflict, contestation and resistance to embodied gender norms.