Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

2 - Dialogics of Water’s Lively Afterlives in Postcolonial Singapore

Friday, March 23
12:45 PM - 2:45 PM
Location: Thurgood Marshall West, Mezzanine

In water-scarce Singapore, how did the postcolonial state so quickly and successfully replace British water technologies, especially for drinking water, moving Singapore from Rome-mimicking aqueduct to reverse osmosis membranes and recycled NEWater? In the colonial era, centralized  politics and infrastructure of negotiated piping from Johore and reservoirs jostled dialogically with different Asian (Chinese, Indian, Malay) communities’ water infrastructure and practices, including wells, rivers, rain catchment and donated fountains. British regulation focused on “sanitation,” especially sewage, but British water provision became most famous for its spectacular failure as the Japanese invaded in 1942.  Independent Singapore under Lee Kwan Yew and successors took water provision as a central goal.  Postcolonial water continues centralization and panopticism, but also innovates imaginative potable water relations between state and people, notably NEWater (added routinely to reservoirs) and media persuasive technologies. Disentanglement from international water dependency has brought water provision and sewage into new, technologically impressive relationships. This paper considers three cases: First, independent Singapore’s state project to replace colonial water entanglements with Malaysia via locally produced NEWater. Second, tension in  policies focusing on reservoirs, where colonial, centralized control continues in policy and water pricing, but also, surprisingly is supplemented by value on pleasure and enjoyment in consumption of water. Third the dialogics of everyday water-boiling by one third of Singaporean households, figured in kitchen kettles, a seeming colonial era continuant which nowadays expresses complex relationships to colonial past, present national values, and enduring family love.

Martha Kaplan

Vassar College, New York

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