Anthropology and Environment Society
Volunteered - Oral Presentation Session
Many studies of infrastructure begin from the premise that infrastructure is “by definition invisible” (Star 1999: 380). Taken for granted, infrastructure is often invisible until it breaks down. And yet, as scholars of the Global South have pointed out, this assertion offers a partial perspective that effaces colonial histories and flattens accounts of the ways in which postcolonial citizens have lived with infrastructure (Anand 2017; Bjorkman 2015; Graham and Thrift 2007). The city-state of Singapore, however, does not cohere neatly to such normative expectations of (in)visibility in the Global North and South. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in Singapore amongst residents and urban planners, this paper considers two moments of infrastructural visibility and invisibility. First, I argue that the hypervisibility of infrastructural forms (e.g. famed tourist spot Gardens by the Bay) does not exemplify notions of breakdown and repair. Rather, such spectacular forms play into the promises and aspirations of modernity that help to sustain the power of the dominant People’s Action Party (PAP). Secondly, I examine Singapore’s decades-long practice of creating new land by “reclaiming” it from the sea. While residents are aware of this policy, this infrastructural practice largely remains invisible from the public eye and only enters the public domain when the state decides what must be done with this “new” land. Read together, these two examples reveal the tenuous relationship between infrastructural (in)visibility, state power, and governance.