PRISM: USP Undergraduate Journal
This Journal is a publication of the University Scholars Programme (USP), National University of Singapore. EDITORIAL BOARD Faculty Editor Daniel PS Goh, Assistant Professor, Sociology, NUS Chief Editor Goh Huishan Editors Jeanne Tai Sreemanee Raaj Dorajoo Ho Kim Cheong Bernard Koh Charmaine Low Chong Cui Ying All Correspondence should be directed to: The Editor, PRISM: USP Undergraduate Journal University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore BLK ADM, Level 6 10 Kent Ridge Crescent Singapore 119260 Copyright © 2010 University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore. Apart from fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, and only as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, only with the prior permission in writing of the Publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licencing Agency. Inquiries concerning reproduction outside of these terms should be directed to the publishers at the above-mentioned address.
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Table of Contents
From Ulysses to the Merlion: Hypertextuality and a Singaporean Canon Christine Chong Contractualism on Saving the Greater Number Lim Chong Ming Kollywood and the Indian Tamil Diaspora Kumuthan Maderya The Little Green Dot Alexius Yeo Per Guan Varieties of Capitalism: Locating Singapore’s State-led Model Lim Aik The Political Economy of Food: A Perspective on the Strategies Employed by Asian Countries to Enhance National Food Security Tan Wenqi Counterterrorism via Community Engagement: The Long and Short of It Seah Ru Han Public Sector Funding of Scholarships in Singapore: An Economic Analysis of the Recruitment of Public Sector Talents Ho Kim Cheong; Lee Yern Fai; Thomas Zhuo Dianyun A Pilot-Test: Masked Priming Number-word Judgment Test for Chinese-English-Malay Trilinguals Ruth Ng Lu De Solid-Phase Microextraction of Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: A Comparative Study of Four Commercial Fibres and an In-house Prepared Device Clara Mou Huiting The Etiology of Metabolic Syndrome, Its Progression to Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus and the Alleviating Effects of Exercise Kishan Kumar Singh Call for papers
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PRISM: Editor’s foreword
By Goh Huishan
RISM: USP Undergraduate Journal is back for its third run. The editorial team once again presents a wide array of scholarly pursuits from a spectrum of disciplines—from the humanities to the social sciences, and for the first time in PRISM history, the natural sciences. In this issue, PRISM continues its tradition of celebrating diverse undergraduate research in NUS by bringing together papers with different objects of inquiry and methodologies in knowledge construction and evaluation. Critically, the two threads of knowledge construction—building knowledge through a certain lens by using particular methodologies—as well as knowledge evaluation—evaluating current understandings of the reality—make up what is known as research in academia. It is precisely this that PRISM looks to showcase: examples of undergraduate research. The pivotal role of knowledge evaluation is addressed in three papers by Lim Aik, Kishan Kumar Singh and Seah Ruhan. By reviewing extant literature on political economy and the metabolic syndrome respectively, Lim attempts to place Singapore within Peter Hall and David Soskice’s ‘varieties of capitalism’ approach while Kishan suggests approaches to combat insulin resistance and consequently Type 2 Diabetes. This positions their research against the current academic grain in their fields. On the other hand, Seah approaches knowledge evaluation by adopting a comparative analysis of counterterrorist programmes in the United Kingdom and Singapore, thus challenging the increasingly popular community-based approaches towards counterterrorism. Indeed, a common thread following such different topics is the diverse, and at times converging, research methods undertaken by each writer in knowledge construction. In the arena of natural sciences, Clara Mou uses experimentation to determine if an in-house prepared plunger-in-needle extraction device is a plausible and less costly alternative to commercial fibres used in the microextraction of Carcinogenic Hydrocarbons. Similarly, experimentation is adopted in a social sciences paper, as Ruth Ng employs laboratory experiments to test how far understanding the meaning of a number word in a translation depends on word form overlap between translation equivalents in trilinguals. Three papers written by Christine Chong, Kumuthan Maderya and Alexius Yeo adopt the qualitative method to explore the issue of identity creation. Chong traces developing meanings ascribed to the Merlion through a body of Merlion poetry, and attempts to locate political contestation within it. Kumuthan, looking at a very different text form, questions if diasporic films can exist as conduit for a Tamil diasporic identity. Yeo, on the other hand, investigates how trees, something more commonplace and tangible, take part in the creation of lieux de memoire or sites of memory in Singapore. The generation of predictive hypotheses and models, which is vital to theory construction, is exemplified in the papers by Tan Wenqi and Ho Kim Cheong et al. Tan creates a matrix to locate types of players in the international politics of food while Ho et al. use a regression model to question if the public or private sector should be funding university scholarships for Singaporeans. These papers demonstrate the researcher’s ability to create predictive and falsifiable models. Finally, we have a piece of philosophical inquiry which constructs and evaluates knowledge in a non-empirical manner by Lim Chong Ming. In his paper, Lim discusses the extent to which Thomas Scanlon’s account of contractualism can be reconciled with the problem of moral aggregation. PRISM continues to present a perspective on academic knowledge that is framed and produced by NUS undergraduates who explore the spectrum of methods to construct and evaluate knowledge. Our inclusive and interdisciplinary approach towards research reifies our belief that undergraduates are not only producers, but also arbiters, of research.
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The PRISM Editorial Board
Goh Huishan, USP and English Language Huishan majored in English language and graduated from NUS and USP in July 2010. Her research interests include language typology, contact linguistics and cognitive linguistics. She loves Southeast Asia where she enjoys fieldwork investigating linguistic systems and ecosystems. For her honours thesis, Huishan fused both contact and cognitive linguistics and, using Singapore English, asked if contact between languages can take place at the level of the conceptual metaphor. She believes that PRISM is an accessible platform to showcase and inspire undergraduate knowledge construction and evaluation, a space in which undergraduates are allowed to express their understanding of reality through research. Huishan continues to believe that she can study for the rest of her life, and come September 2010, will be heading to Oxford University to pursue her Masters in General Linguistics and Comparative Philology.
Jeanne Tai Jing Yi, USP and History Jeanne majored in history and graduated from NUS and USP in July 2010. As an undergraduate, she did not develop a specific research area, preferring to poke her fingers in many intellectual pies. She has worked on an eclectic mix of subjects, including a critique of a pseudo-historical theatre production about Japanese prostitutes (published in the last issue of PRISM) and a study of a little-known sporting festival in colonial Singapore that endured for over a century. Combining an interest in gender, colonial society and textual analysis, Jeanne’s honours thesis studied a collection of colonial policy papers which addressed the sex trade in interwar Singapore. Jeanne hopes that PRISM will continue to encourage and reward undergraduates who adopt an open and fearless attitude toward research, and who tread areas which may not yield conclusive answers but will spark plenty of questions. Jeanne continues to pursue her love for writing and the occasional quirky subject as a journalist with SPH Magazines.
Ho Kim Cheong, USP and Economics Kim Cheong is a fourth-year undergraduate majoring in Economics and Liberal Arts under the NUS–Waseda Double Degree Program. He has interests in microeconomics, particularly industrial organisation, competition economics and marketing. He enjoys reading marketing and strategy articles, and immersing in Japanese culture and language. In his opinion, research means more than just analysing a single piece of work in depth, nor is it plucking information from various sources to form an essay. While he does acknowledge that secondary research is important, more weightage should be given to primary research wherever possible. Idea generation, giving rise to the research, is just as important.
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Sreemanee Raaj Dorajoo, USP and Pharmacy Sreemanee is a fourth-year undergraduate majoring in Pharmacy, Faculty of Science, NUS. His research interest lies in the speciality of drug-drug interactions, particularly involving chemotherapy regimens. He enjoys football and is a lifelong Leeds United fan. He thinks PRISM stands as a showcase of the research talent within the undergraduate population in the University Scholars Programme and beyond. The quality of the papers published stands testament to this. PRISM familiarises undergraduates with the process of manuscript submission and peer evaluation – a process that is central to modern knowledge inquiry. PRISM also serves as a confluence of undergraduate research papers from a variety of academic disciplines.
Bernard Koh Beng Huat, USP and English Literature Bernard is a third-year undergraduate majoring in English Literature. He advocates peer learning which he believes characterises USP and his involvement in the programme. Besides editing PRISM - which selects and publishes thoughtful and edifying research by undergraduates - he is also a writing assistant with the USP Writing Centre, which offers one-on-one conferences conducted by and for students. His interests include film (in particular, the work of Wong Kar-wai), and colonial and postcolonial writing.
Charmaine Low Hui Shan, USP and Computing Charmaine is a third-year undergraduate at the School of Computing, majoring in Communications and New Media. She is interested in making things functional and beautiful. Before she became a computing geek XD, she used to read a lot - so much so that she could read while walking or while on the bus (though not always) - and brought a book everywhere she went. Now, through English tuition for kids big and small, she tries to spark a love for reading and teach them to write coherently and clearly. She hopes to write and illustrate her own children’s picture book in the future.
Chong Cui Ying, USP and Economics Cui Ying is a third-year undergraduate majoring in Economics and minoring in English Language. Her current research interest include behavioural economics and economic policy-making processes. Cui Ying hopes that PRISM will continue to showcase the many undergraduate research talents from various academic disciplines within NUS in the years to come.
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From Ulysses To The Merlion: Hypertextuality And A Singaporean Canon
Singaporean poetry has one major motif: the Merlion. As poets insert themselves in the national canon in reaction to Edwin Thumboo’s “Ulysses by the Merlion” (1979), they contest one another in creating meaning from the icon. What does this body of literature tell us about hypertextuality, the literature of politics, and the politics of literature and the Singapore canon?
with the tensions and interrelations between the poems that will provide a breadth and depth of commentary on the notion of national identity, what it means to be Singaporean and the relationship between images/art/ poetry and politics. Not only does the notion of an anthology encourage us to read the Merlion poems in relation to one another as a collection, the poems themselves have close textual relations to one another. These relations are defined as intertextuality, textual links between two texts. In the case of the Merlion poetry however, there are evidently more than two texts; there are at least 40 poems that have as their subject the same motif. If intertextuality refers to textual links between two texts, hypertextuality “marks a field of literary works the generic essence of which lies in their relation to previous works” (Allen 2000: 108) and requires more than two texts to create a group of works. In his work Palimpsests (1997), Gérard Genette identifies numerous literary techniques in which writers can transform a hypotext (the earlier text) into a hypertext (the derived text) such that readers read or remember the hypotext through the hypertext. I argue that it is through the literary transformations identified by Genette and through the hypertexts’ literary contestation with the hypotext, that political contestation happens. Working from the first Thumboo poem, I will show how the subsequent poems employ the various techniques identified by Genette to subvert the earlier poems, slowly shedding Classical, Elizabethan and Romantic references for more playful postmodernist tones. Not only does this development mirror the literary history of the Western tradition of literature, it similarly replaces more traditional notions of nationality with increasingly modern and postmodern ideas. This transition reflects not only more diversity and development in Singaporean poetry but also an increased daring in expressing suspicion of the status quo—both sociopolitical and literary.
“How has an improbable creation come to take on the hopes and aspirations of a nascent nation? This book, with poems by nearly 40 poets, zeroes in on the Merlion and what it ultimately says about Singapore and Singaporeans.” Blurb from Reflecting On The Merlion: An Anthology of Poems (2009)
he blurb from the anthology of Merlion poems, published in 2009, asks how the Merlion, “a nifty Singapore Tourism Board symbol— thought up in 1964 by a certain Mr. Fraser Brunner” (Thumboo and Yeow 2009: 10), created for tourists by a non-local, managed to develop into something so intricately linked with the national identity of Singapore and a motif so greatly commented on by local poets. This is a question worth asking indeed. The blurb then suggests that it is “this book,” and not any individual poem, which might provide an answer on what “Singapore and Singaporeans” mean. Indeed, to base a nation’s sense of identity on an image constructed for global more than local consumption seems problematic, yet an entire anthology has emerged based on this already shaky foundation. The blurb recognises that just as it is not the Merlion itself that can give us a genuine sense of national identity, any one particular Merlion poem also fails to deliver a satisfactory understanding of Singapore’s “hopes and aspirations” or an adequate commentary on “Singapore and Singaporeans.” Instead, it is only through dialogue between opinions, the contestation of ideas and the multiplicity of voices that one can get a thorough sense of what national identity is. It is precisely “the book,” an anthology, that presents us
The Western Hypertextual Eastern Hypotext: Edwin Thumboo’s “Ulysses by the Merlion”
Edwin Thumboo, the poet of the first Merlion poem “Ulysses to the Merlion” (1979), is one of the editors of the anthology Reflecting on the Merlion. His poem is positioned before and separate from the division of Section One and Section Two in the Contents page, signifying that poem as the pioneer and suggesting its position as the hypotext to all the other subsequent poems. While Thumboo’s poem is indeed the hypotextual Merlion poem, “Ulysses to the Merlion” is, in fact, a hypertext of the Ulysses motif in the English literary tradition.
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Thumboo’s poem is conscious of both its hypertextuality and intertextuality, referencing traditional poets like Keats, Marlowe, Yeats and Homer (Gooneratne 1986:13). “The bounty of these seas,/ Built towers topless as Ilium’s” (Thumboo 1979: ll.25 – 26) is an almost direct quotation from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus account of Helen of Troy possessing the face that “burnt the topless towers of Ilium” (Marlowe 1604: V.i.97 – 98). Thumboo’s Ulysses, conscious that his name “circulates at large” (Rowlinson 1993: 239), says, “I … made myths myself” (Thumboo 1979: l.13) and situates himself firmly with the Ulysseses of Homer, Virgil, Dante, Horace and Tennyson. In fact, I argue that Thumboo’s Ulysses is a hypertextual extension (Genette 1997: 254) of Tennyson’s poem titled “Ulysses” in that it extends or builds upon the logic of the hypotext. Structurally, both poems are dramatic monologues with two distinct voices. There is an uncertainty about the shift in the voice of the narrator of Thumboo’s poem, “… the poem speaks in two voices. The second part invokes technology and commerce, multiracial harmony and metamorphosis” (Patke 1998: 28). Indeed, the change in tone in the fourth stanza to the last is drastic and the occasion of the poem breaks down: Ulysses, the wide-eyed tourist, could not know so much about Singapore when he has just arrived. Kirpal Singh also highlights this transition in which “something quite radical has happened in the poem” (Singh 2002: 297) but, like Patke, does not give an adequate explanation for why the poem “speaks in two voices” (Patke 1998: 28). Perhaps going to its hypotext may explain Thumboo’s intention. “Ulysses” also has two voices, the first half denoting the private, interior self, and the second the public discourse and persona. In Thumboo’s poem, the first and second half are divided by a shift from the use of the pronoun “I” to “they” and the shift performs a similar function, moving from the personal to the public. The two voices also reflect the agenda of the Thumboo—to shift poetry from the personal into the public arena. These structural similarities then locate the poets’ concerns as similar. Indeed, Thumboo agrees with Tennyson’s mode of poetry that deals with public themes. Is it mere coincidence that the most famous poem by Thumboo, the “closest Singapore has to a poet laureate” (Lim 1989: 537 – 538), has such strong ties to a poem by the British poet laureate? Lee Kuan Yew, then Singapore Prime Minister, said in 1968 that “Poetry is a luxury we cannot afford” (Lim 1989: 528). I argue that Thumboo modelled his poetry on Tennyson’s artful mode of blending the private and public in poetry, such that he, like Tennyson, can be a responsible social being, making poetry viable in a hostile environment that did not encourage literature. It should be clear that reading Thumboo’s poem in relation to its hypotext sheds light on not only Thumboo’s literary intention but also his sociopolitical agenda of establishing poetry as relevant in the public sphere. However, the literature of politics does not stand apart from the politics of literature and it is best to first acknowledge that one must be aware that “Ulysses” is “an argument for continuity within a certain textual tradition” (Rowlinson 1993: 241), itself conscious of its status as a hypertext of the Western literary tradition. Thumboo consciously engages with the Western hypotext of Ulysses when his Ulysses says “I am become a name” (Thumboo 1979: l.11). The persona refers to Ulysses’ fame as circulated by Homer, Horace, Dante and Tennyson; they “refer to a single fictional person whose life exists in different versions” (Rowlinson 1993: 241). Moreover, the use of the dramatic present tense also seems to suggest that this process of canonisation is ongoing (Pearsall 2008: 182). Indeed, just as Tennyson’s Ulysses is a hypertextual reworking of Dante’s Inferno, Horace’s Epistles and Homer’s Odyssey, Thumboo recognises that since the canonisation is “ongoing,” his Ulysses can be easily incorporated as part of this Western tradition. The Ulysses of Thumboo is highly similar to that of Tennyson; in fact, they may very well be the same persona. Just as Tennyson’s “Ulysses” echoes the earlier Ulysseses, Thumboo’s “Ulysses to the Merlion” echoes Tennyson’s through the similar use of “unequal” and “race” in close proximity. Despite unequal ways, together they mutate. Explore the edges of harmony. Search for a centre. Have changed their gods. Kept some memory of their race. (Thumboo 1979: ll.29 – 34, emphases mine)
Match’d with an aged life, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race. (Tennyson 1833: ll.3 – 4, emphases mine)
Also, Thumboo’s materialistic four-part version of “They make, they serve,/ They buy, they sell” (Thumboo 1979: ll.27 – 28) has a similar rhythm to Tennyson’s Romantic vision “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield” (Tennyson 1833: l.70). In both poems, the extent of Ulysses’ travelling and his dual experience of enjoyment and suffering are emphasised through the repetition of “travel”: Tennyson’s “I cannot rest from travel; I will drink/ Life to the lees.
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All times I have enjoy’d/ Greatly, have suffer’d greatly” (Tennyson 1833: ll.6 – 8, emphases mine) is echoed in Thumboo’s “I kept faith with Ithaca, traveled,/ Traveled and traveled,/ Suffering much, enjoying a little” (Thumboo 1979: ll.9 – 11). Both Ulysseses also tolerate suffering for the Romantic cause of being able to both record and become of myth. While Tennyson’s Ulysses declares “I am become a name;/.../ Much have I seen and known,-- cities of men/ And manners, climates, councils, governments” (Tennyson 1833: ll.11 – 14), Thumboo’s Ulysses has “Met strange people singing/ New myths; made myths myself (Thumboo 1979: ll.12 – 13). The mirroring of Tennyson in Thumboo’s use of the dramatic monologue in a two-part structure, the textual echoes and the concerns of the persona mark the Ulysses of Thumboo as the same Ulysses of Tennyson. I argue that Thumboo’s “Ulysses by the Merlion” is a textual extension (Genette 1997: 254) of Tennyson’s “Ulysses,” in that it extends or builds upon the logic of the hypotext. Thumboo’s Ulysses extends the desires of Tennyson’s Ulysses who, at an old age, expresses a desire for continual adventure. Thumboo extends the narrative time and logic of Tennyson’s Ulysses in his old age and makes Ulysses move eastward to the isle of Singapore to see the great “lion of the sea” (Thumboo 1979: l.14) instead of westward “to touch the Happy Isles” (Tennyson 1833: l.63). Instead of dying and ending his adventures, Tennyson’s Ulysses easily becomes Thumboo’s Ulysses who gets one more adventure in Singapore, a kind of epilogue in his old age. The formal extension of the persona in the hypotextual poem into the hypertextual one has implications on the way Thumboo’s poem has been read as anglophilic. This extension of Tennyson’s Ulysses into Thumboo’s poem reflects Thumboo’s emphasis on the English literary tradition as not only a source upon which a local poet must draw to carry weight, but as a tradition that is desirable; one that the Singaporean poet should like to insert himself into. One key implication of this hypotextual extension into the hypotext of the Merlion poetry is that the Singaporean literary tradition should develop as an extension and a continuation of the English literary tradition. Thumboo believes that local innovations in poetry “should not take the new writing away from the main creative tradition in English” (Thumboo 1977: 23). The motif of the East meeting the West in “Ulysses to the Merlion” is present when Ulysses arrives in Singapore and gazes with wonder at the “powerful creature of land and sea,” but this is complicated by the fact that the Merlion is silent. The extension of Thumboo’s Ulysses from Tennyson’s privileges the Western tradition over the East, which is only gazed upon, passive and enigmatic, reinstating Orientalist structures.
From Hypotextual to Hypertextual: The Merlion Speaks in Lee’s “The Merlion to Ulysses”
Lee Tzu Pheng parodies Thumboo’s paratextual dedication “for Maurice Baker” with “on the latter’s visit in Edwin Thumboo’s ‘Ulysses by the Merlion’,” setting up her poem’s occasion as similar to and as a response to Thumboo’s poem. By doing so, she intentionally ties the reading of her poem to Thumboo’s, using paratextuality to signify that Thumboo’s poem is a major source of signification for Lee’s poem. Using a similar form of the dramatic monologue, Lee’s “The Merlion to Ulysses” (1997) is instead spoken by the Merlion “to” Ulysses, now silent. The shift of the speaking subject from Ulysses to the Merlion is called to the reader’s attention by the switch in the positions of their names in the title of the poems; instead of privileging Ulysses, the Western literary tradition and its Romantic ideals, Lee silences Ulysses and animates the Merlion, privileging the Merlion, the PAP and its pragmatic ideas. This giving speech to, or animating a previously minor character in a hypotext, is what Genette refers to as transmotivisation (Genette 1997: 330). Transmotivisation takes place through a closer scrutiny of the previously enigmatic motives, opinions and thoughts of the minor character to inform and deepen our understanding of the hypotext, or at least provide an alternative interpretation of the hypotext. When Lee gives Thumboo’s previously silent Merlion a motive, she privileges the agendas, opinions and thoughts of the Merlion as worth examining; the response of the Merlion to Ulysses is of value and important. It is through this animation of the Merlion that the Merlion is constructed as the hypertextual figure in its own right, displacing Ulysses as the main hypertextual character. By setting up the Merlion as the structural opposite of Ulysses through transmotivisation, Lee fashions an active response, a voice that allows the Merlion to assert itself against Ulysses, and by extension the Western literary tradition, the Western gaze and the values it represents. Indeed, Lee’s Merlion is almost aggressive in its attitude towards Thumboo’s Ulysses. Unlike the homage that Thumboo pays to Tennyson when he echoes his language, textual allusion to Thumboo’s poem in Lee’s reflects instead the suspicious attitude of her Merlion to Thumboo’s Ulysses. In “The Merlion to Ulysses,” the vocabulary of the Merlion makes it clear that its rhetoric is that of the ruling party of Singapore, the People’s Action Party. Privileging pragmatism, meritocracy and discipline over Western “decadence,” Lee’s Merlion echoes Thumboo’s valorising word “many,” in Ulysses having “sailed many waters” (Thumboo 1979: l.1), and subverts it to contain a negative connotation of inefficiency and
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disorganisation; Ulysses instead has made “too many detours” (Lee 1997: l.1). While Thumboo’s Ulysses has “[k]ept faith with Ithaca” (Thumboo 1979: l.9), Lee’s Merlion requires verbal professions to be matched by physical presence and tangible economic contribution: “How long since you proved/ Productive and loyal, Properly at home?” (Lee 1997: ll.9 – 10). While Thumboo’s Ulysses neutrally comments that having spent “[s]even years with Calypso” is one of the obstacles that kept him from Ithaca, Lee’s Merlion takes a more judgmental attitude and accuses Ulysses of having been “[w]edded to adulterous adventure” (Lee 1997: l.11). The alliteration expresses a scorn that condemns Ulysses for betraying his wife, home and responsibilities. Such a critical attitude is reinforced when Ulysses’ complaint of “Suffering much, enjoying a little” (Thumboo 1979: l.11) becomes his own fault, since it was an “Ill-planned journey” (Lee 1997: l.8). Transmotivising the Merlion has allowed it to set up a binaristic set of values in which Ulysses stands as its opposite; with two differing opinions on the same individual’s circumstances, the tension between the ideals of the PAP and that of the West are more strongly emphasised. While Lee’s Merlion rejects comparisons to the “dragon, phoenix, Garuda [and] naga, those horses of the sun” because they are too ideal, it encourages comparisons to Ulysses, establishes itself as his equal: So – the important things of our world, You must admit 32) Have not changed much at all. (Lee 1997: ll.30 – characteristics and values of its “creators” (Lee 1997: l.36) whom it asks Ulysses to respect. “Allusions to history and myth are discarded; the Merlion of the poems instead foregrounds its own artificiality with an injunction to ‘remember to respect my creators’” (Kang 2008: 7). Lee’s Merlion also seems to question the validity of Thumboo’s argument that Ulysses would be impressed by the Merlion and expresses a skepticism in the amazement behind Thumboo’s Ulysses’ statement that “Nothing, nothing in my days/ Foreshadowed this/ Half-beast, half-fish” (Thumboo 1979: ll.19–21). The repetition of “nothing” emphasizes his awe while the comma after the first “nothing” evokes the rhythm of a spectator breathless with wonder. But the Merlion scoffs at his naiveté: “Look how easy it is to sell you my story?/ Are you the warrior, or the gull?/ You seem amazed? Properly impressed?” (Lee 1997: ll.28 – 30). The rhetorical questions make the Merlion’s approach condescending, escalating the sense of superiority the Merlion has over the “feckless wanderer” (Lee 1997: l.35). Also, this transmotivisation raises issues of postcolonial theory: the Eastern object is given the agency to reject the orientalising gaze of Ulysses, the Western subject. While Thumboo’s poem valorises the West and the State, Lee’s ironises both by transmotivising the local Merlion and ventriloquising the pragmatism of the state via its voice. Lee’s response sets the stage not just for intertextuality in Singaporean poetry but hypertextuality, “a field of literary works the generic essence of which lies in their relation to previous works” (Allen 2000: 108). Prior to this, only Thumboo’s character of Ulysses is hypertextual, his Merlion stood alone in the literary landscape. Lee animates the character of the Merlion and establishes the Merlion as a hypertextual literary figure and Ulysses is soon almost left behind.
“Our” establishes the two figures as sharing a mythical dimension but also establishes them as equally complex and problematic. This transmotivisation of the Merlion rejects the simplistic approach to the Merlion by imbuing it with a personality and character that is hard to pin down. The Merlion proudly declares at the end that it is “the scion of a wealthy race” and wears “the silver armour of my moneyed people” (Lee 1997: ll.33 – 34). Here, Lee takes the shine evoked in Thumboo’s poem to be associated with material shine and success only. While Thumboo’s vision of Singaporeans has elements of Romantic idealism: They hold the bright, the beautiful. Good ancestral dreams Within new visions. So shining, urgent. (Thumboo 1979: ll.37 – 40) Lee’s Merlion associates “bright” and “shining” with pragmatism, “silver”, “armour” and “money.” The Merlion in Lee’s poem takes on the voice,
From Monologue to Duologue: The Dramatics of Alfian Sa’at’s “Merlion”
If Thumboo’s “Ulysses by the Merlion” (1979) extends the Ulysses hypertext and by doing so, situates the Merlion in the Western canon, Lee’s “The Merlion to Ulysses” (1997) constructs the Merlion as a hypertextual figure in itself via transmotivisation. Alfian Sa’at’s “The Merlion” (1998) then effectively dramatises the tension between these two poets by creating two speaking personas in his poem, changing the form from that of monologue to that of a duologue, but focusing on the same themes of the West versus the East. Such a summary of arguments already in place is what Genette terms condensation, while the change of the form of the poem would be termed transstylisation. It is via condensation that Sa’at focuses the tension
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between Thumboo and Lee as essentially about West versus East. Though the two earlier poems address issues of the Western canon, Western ideals of Romanticism, Western figures of power against the pragmatism of the PAP and the postcolonial subject taking ownership of its voice, Sa’at creates two personas to personify the binaries the Thumboo and Lee poems deal with. The Westernised Singaporean and the Singaporean Singaporean, the poet himself, debate with each other in the poem and Sa’at clearly situates his loyalties with Lee. He deviates from the structure of his predecessors by employing a duologue instead of a monologue, perhaps anxious to differentiate himself as a poet and playwright. Sa’at has confessed, in retrospect, that his poem is “too reactionary,” a form of “literary patricide, triggered by the anxiety of influence” (Sa’at 2005: 17). He has written that “Ulysses by the Merlion” is “a poem written in the early days of Singapore English-language poetry - consumed as it was with the antiquated grand narratives: the collective ethos, notion of the public, and the role of literature in nation–building” (Sa’at 2005: 17), therein showing awareness of having to engage with national issues in this motif. Indeed, Sa’at’s poem reflects less certainty about how the Merlion figures in the rhetoric of nation building. The Merlion no longer speaks, nor does a figure like Ulysses speak to it. Instead, two Singaporeans look and speculate on the silent and enigmatic Merlion which the poem, structured by a series of seven questions: “how does it move? / Like a torpedo? Or does it shoulder itself...?”, seeks to unravel. The move from the monologue to the duologue foregrounds a more complicated view of the Merlion, as a site of contestation on which poets, like the speakers in the poem, look at the silent Merlion and try to interpret it. The tension between the two speakers is dramatised with “A pause” and “Another pause” (Sa’at 1998: 1.43, 44), with a playful pun on “paws.” These are indented as single line stanzas causing the poem to bear similarities to the structure of a play. The dramatic monologue in Tennyson, Thumboo and Lee has now become a dramatic duologue, a performance in which the “acquired accent” (Sa’at 1998: l.45), “blond highlights in [his] black hair” (Sa’at 1998: l.39) and “blue lenses the shadow of a foreign sky” (Sa’at 1998: l.40) function as costume, signifying the Westernised local. As a dramatic duologue, the poem can be read as a performance of the poetic interaction between two poets, a presentation of the clash between Thumboo’s Western sentiments and Lee’s more local sentiments. While the overall tone of Sa’at’s poem abandons the formal language of its hypotexts, being more casual with conversational expressions like “I mean, you know, I mean” (Sa’at 1998: l.36), it also reflects an uncertainty about the Merlion’s meaning. The Westernised Singaporean speaks in dense language, asking a series of questions which probe at what the Merlion is with a quick pace with run-on-lines. The comparison to the Sphinx and the sophisticated phrases like “post-Chernobyl nightmare” and “unaccustomed limpidity” (Sa’at 1998: l.5, 16) perhaps parody the language of poets who pose intellectual questions eloquently and with flowery language. Yet the speakers never get to the underlying “meaning” of the poem; the horror (“Can you imagine...?), the confusion (“what a riddle”) and the speculation (“Could it be that...?”, “Perhaps”) never reach any conclusions, and the poem ends anticlimactically with an almost absurd wish that the Merlion had paws. Perhaps it is via this transstylisation and condensation that Alfian proposes the inability of any poet to speak on behalf of the Merlion; poets will interact with one another, they will ask questions, speculate and suggest, but the Merlion will always elude any ultimate fixed meaning.
Too Many Merlion Poems: A Symptom of an Anxiety?
Among the later Merlion poets, Paul Tan writes that “we are choked with poetry” (Tan 2000: l.1). Daren Shiau’s Merlion is tired of “posed/ poems by ponderous poets like Thumboo, Lee and even young Sa’at” (Shiau 2000: ll.4 - 5) while Alvin Pang laments that “we wallow in metaphors” (Pang 1998: l.30). Conscious of this almost overused motif, Gui Wei Hsin’s dedication in “Telemachus By the Merlion” is exceedingly long: the poem arriving “(after Edwin Thumboo, Lee Tzu Pheng, Alfian bin Sa’at, Felix Cheong and Alvin Pang),” and the word “after” in the paratext reflecting the fact that he writes both in and against the canon of the already existing Merlion poetry. The anxiety generated by a consciousness of one’s poetic predecessors, the impulse for the “literary patricide” that Sa’at speaks of, is literalised in Gui’s use of Telemachus as the title character in his dramatic monologue. Following the form of the monologue, Gui amplifies (Genette 1997: 262) the Classical possibilities of Thumboo’s Ulysses with the new persona of Telemachus, the son of Ulysses, to reflect Gui’s own anxieties about the influence of his literary predecessor, Thumboo. Similar to an Oedipal complex, Harold Bloom’s The Anxiety of Influence (1973) theorises that new work is created because of the impulse for younger poets to kill off their literary fathers and dispel their shadowy influence over them and their work. Gui takes on this tension between the father-son relationship, analogous to that of the literary predecessor and later poet, as Telemachus complains about his father to his mother. If the literary predecessor is the father and the source, Gui’s poem has two literary hypotexts: Thumboo’s for structure and Homer for content. In terms of form, Gui’s poem does an imitation of Thumboo’s: it is a dramatic monologue with two voices. As the analogy between the father-son/earlier
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poet-later poet structures the poem, Gui is then Telemachus and Thumboo Ulysses, both derived from and yet anti-Ulysses. Telemachus’ “I have circled many waters” (Gui 2004: l.2) echoes and combines the first lines of Thumboo’s poem, “I have sailed many waters” (Thumboo 1979: l.1), and Lee’s, “You have made too many detours” (Lee 1997: l.1). In fact, it is the detouring from the original that Bloom has referred to as one of the ways to conquer the Anxiety of Influence. Gui’s poem is intentionally a pastiche, and the intertextuality in Gui’s poem extends beyond using Thumboo and Homer as a source, beyond citing literary works, and encompasses literary critical theory, drawing attention to the poem as both a piece of art and a critique of art itself. Gui’s poem contains traditional references like “wine dark sea” (Gui 2004: l.36) from Classical Homer’s The Illiad and “[T]he word fleshed in stone” (Gui 2004: 1.40) from John 1:1 in the New International Version Bible. But then it deviates from the previous poems with its conscious references to modernist poetry. “This fragment of abrupt imagination,/ shored against the ruins of independence” (Gui 2004: ll.11 12) echoes T.S. Eliot’s “These fragments I have shored against my ruins” (Eliot 1922: l.430) and parodies the notion of Singapore’s national identity with regard to independence, while the “shored” becomes more literal as the Merlion stands on the shore of Singapore. It is this combination of Homeric, Biblical and modernist poetry that makes Gui’s poem Telemachian: it has traces of the old but also incorporates the newer, younger literary movements. This amplification of the hypertext as a natural and chronological development, as Telemachus from Ulysses, results in an extension of the literary sources and references chronologically as well. While Thumboo’s influences are clearly from the Renaissance and Romantic periods, Gui references modernist poetry of the early twentieth century and even literary theory from the 1960s onward. These references to literary theory function as meta-criticism and draw attention to how his poem critiques his predecessors, just as Telemachus complains of Ulysses. The “[P] anoptic presence” (Gui 2004: l.25) refers to Foucault’s concept of surveillance of the state and suggests that the Merlion functions as an extension of the state, using its eyes as a mode of surveillance watching over its citizens. “[D]ifferance” (Gui 2004: l.26), and the phrase “always already” elsewhere (Gui 2004: l.29) are Derridian concepts which suggest the impossibility of arriving at a final meaning of what the Merlion signifies since meaning is always deferred till the next Merlion poem comes along to challenge that meaning. The “feckless signifier” (Gui 2004: l.27) combines Lee’s “feckless wanderer” (Lee 1997: l.35) with the Saussurean notion of the empty signifier, suggesting that the Merlion’s meaning is unstable. Rather, it is interdeterminately anchored to other signs which can generate possibilities of meaning for the Merlion, thus opening the Merlion’s meaning up for use, or abuse. Via amplification of the Classical possibilities of Thumboo’s Ulysses, Gui creates a Telemachus character that reflects on both his classical and literary fathers. The critical strand of this poem is then addressed via the combination of these different literary sources and critical terms in the poem in what is termed pastiche. Self-conscious and self-reflexive, Gui’s poem launched a flurry of literary responses on the forum of The Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (or QLRS, an online literary journal serving the literary scene in Singapore), sparking off a playful wave of poetic reactions. The next group of poems I will discuss are responses to Gui’s poem and one common intertextual pattern they use is that they all go back to the hypotext, Thumboo’s “Ulysses to the Merlion,” and amplify the Merlion’s other Classical possibilities.
The Postmodern Merlion: Burlesque, Travesty and Pastiche
The poems that follow Gui’s have postmodernist elements such as irony, self-consciousness, meshing of high and low culture, pastiche and parody. If postmodernism is what Jean-Francois Lyotard in The Postmodern Condition (1979) defines as an “incredulity towards metanarratives,” then the playful, subversive attitude of the following poems reflects a distrust of the grand narrative of Thumboo’s “Ulysses by the Merlion” and the subsequent way the “literary tradition” in Singapore has taken the Merlion as literary symbol too seriously, and works to subvert this hypotext. Parody, which Genette defined as “a limited, even minimal, modification” (1997: 212), is apparent in this last group of poems when each poet takes up a thread of the prior hypotext and works it to a logical extreme. This element of parody is a reaction when poets have “lost the nostalgia for the lost narrative” (Genette 1997: 493) and elevate “all language games to self-knowledge” (Genette 1997: 500). This loss of reverence for the hypotext results in a self-conscious sense of play, which takes the form of language games. The Merlion, the literary and political significance it signifies, now becomes an object for games, for play and for self-reflexivity. Toh Hsien Min’s “Thetis by the Merlion” picks up the reducible point of Gui’s anxiety of the son. Thetis, an aquatic deity who has the ability to metamorphosise, is cursed that her son will be greater than her father. Toh extends the logic of the poem: Thetis’s desire for chastity makes the Merlion the perfect thing to metamorphosise into if she wants to hold on “to [her] purity and [her] unenvisionable hopes” (Toh 2004: l.14) since the “mute mongrel” (Toh 2004: l.2) is so still and unfathomable that nobody can defile her. Toh draws attention to the enigmatic nature of the
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Merlion by comparing it to a goddess with the ability to metamorphosise. While the tone of the poem is sombre, Toh parodies the extreme material and symbolic impenetrability of the Merlion and figures it as a goddess trying hard to retain her chastity. Alfian Sa’at, on the same online forum, extends the idea of metamorphosis and chastity and responds with “Tits on the Merlion? Or, alternative Hellenised title: Circe as the Merlion.” Genette’s definition of burlesque travesty, which through trivialisation (1997: 213) “modifies the style without modifying the subject” and applies a “vulgar style” to a “noble subject” (1997: 22), should be considered here. Assuming the Merlion started off “noble” with Thumboo’s treatment of it, Sa’at treats it with irony and degradation. Unlike Thetis who wants to metamorphose into the Merlion to preserve her chastity, Circe turns into the Merlion because both are whores who use their powers to make visitors (Ulysses or the “Jap” tourists) stay longer. The language is no longer noble but colloquial, with Singaporean expressions like “like to anyhow touch” (Sa’at 2004: l.14). The terminology used is that of the modeling industry and photographers: boobjobs and spotlights are used to draw parallels between the function of the Merlion and a model since both “stand still/ for hours and not say anything…” (Sa’at 2004: ll.1 - 2). This parody of not only the hypotext, but also the thematic vocabulary of the modeling industry, trivialises the Merlion. Instead of a national icon comparable to Thumboo’s “dragon, phoenix,/ Garuda” (Thumboo 1979: ll.45 – 46), the Merlion is a commercial whore who exploits and seduces the tourists. Grace Chia’s “The Merlion at Crazy Horse,” also contributed to the same QLRS forum, picks up on the thread of the sexuality of the Merlion from Sa’at’s poem and posits that like other mythical creatures (unicorns are “horny,” centaurs are “an ass,” mermaids are “voluptuous”), the Merlion should be identified by one characteristic trait. Chia chooses to focus on its lack of gendered traits, which she vulgarly translates into transsexuality, made apparent in the fact that it is uncertain who the cub’s “fa...mo..other parent is” (Chia 2004: l.12). Having “been sexless so long” (Chia 2004: l.7) refers to both not having had sex and not having a particular sex and is a travestic reference to Eliot’s Tiresius, a hermaphrodite oracle, in The Waste Land. Indeed, Chia’s poem is a pastiche, a “mixture of diverse imitations” (Genette 1997: 89), and combines references to the mythical creatures with modern literary references, mostly from T.S. Eliot’s poetry. “[M]ermaids,/whose sniveling songs (each to each)” is a parody of “I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each” in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (Eliot 1917: l.124) while the ending, “Not with a roar but with a whimper” (Chia 2004: l.21) alludes to Eliot’s “Not with a bang but a whimper” (Eliot 1925: 1.99). In each case, the “noble style” becomes “vulgar;” the mermaids now “”snivel” instead of “sing” and the “bang” is replaced by the Merlion’s inability to “roar.” On top of the literary travesty of Eliot, the poem also incorporates and satirises contemporary efforts made by the government to improve Singapore, reflecting the more critical yet playful attitudes of the poets toward the political. The title refers to a cabaret that opened (and closed down) in Singapore as part of an effort to market the city-state as more liberal and sexually open. Invoking modern science’s terms of genetic engineering, the ‘cubs’ on Sentosa are bigger than the parent one at the Esplanade. The Merlion suggests that it may also be “part of someone else’s baby campaign” (Chia 2004: l.14), a snide reference to the Singaporean government’s desperate need to get Singaporeans to produce more babies to ease the effects of an aging population. Instead of being a champion of the nation’s agenda, the Merlion has become a manipulated victim of the government’s attempts at promoting procreation, genetic engineering and sexual liberation. Ng Yi-Sheng’s poem, titled “Anthology,” is a condensation or summary (Genette 1997:239) of all the Merlion poetry, a parodic listing of juxtapositions of random words with the Merlion poking fun at Thumboo’s “Ulysses by the Merlion” (Ng 2009: l.34), “Telemachus by the Merlion” (Ng 2009: l.32) and even the poet himself “Yi-Sheng by the Merlion” (Ng 2009: l.38). This self-consciousness and effort to “debate the present from a position within it” (Easthope and McGowan 2004: 182), using a poem to critique other poems, is characteristically postmodern. By inserting random characters in alphabetical order to be positioned “by the Merlion,” Ng suggests that the Merlion is an empty signifier whose meaning is derived only from what it is juxtaposed against. References range from the Classical to the local to the historical to popular culture, suggesting that the Merlion has been manipulated by not just the state, but also by poets for their own purposes.
Toward a National Motif: The Canon of Merlion Poetry
This theory of hypertextuality is relevant to the Merlion poems because of the self-conscious relationships that the later poems have with the earlier poems. While the later poems work from the hypotext, they also have to differentiate themselves from it. The techniques, angles and formal changes that poets undertake to make their poems new but still relevant to the hypotext has also been commented on by Genette. Indeed, one way the poems create space for themselves is through these formal changes between the hypertexts and the hypotext. While the hypertextuality of the Merlion poetry is the first indication of a literary tradition, it also charts
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the role of poetry in relation to the Singaporean state. The Merlion in Singaporean literary culture started off with grand and lofty aims – trying to engage the state and a sense of belonging for Singaporeans – then developed over time into more personal meditations on the relationship between the state and the individual. The last few poems eventually parody the seriousness with which Merlion poetry is regarded, resulting in self-conscious, playful poetry which sympathises with the Merlion as an object of political and even poetic manipulation. The necessary artistic tension between the poems can also be created through intentional differences in literary influences and political attitudes. The history of the Western literary canon is reflected in the chronology of the poetry, with each movement or influence informing the poet’s attitudes and our reading of the poem. Thumboo’s idealism and belief in the power of a “national poetry” is highlighted by his great debt to the Romantic poet laureate Tennyson while the references to Shakespeare and other canonical writers reflect his poetic bias towards the Western tradition. While the middle poets work against each other and echo each other’s words, later poets like Chia parody T.S. Eliot’s poetry, moving the sphere of the Merlion poetry into that of the postmodern, with an increasing scepticism towards the metanarrative. The literary contestation of the hypertextual poetry is addressed by the Oedipal fears of Telemachus, drawing not only on Homer’s, Tennyson’s and Thumboo’s Ulysses but also on Freud’s theory of the Oedipal Complex. Also citing literary critical theory, Gui draws attention to the way in which the poetry of the Merlion both generates and is already a subject of literary criticism. The notion of pastiche, a combination of influences, with reference to contemporary local events, reminds the reader that these Merlion poems relate to one another not only as contesting literary texts, but as contesting commentaries on the politics of Singaporean identity. The formal changes, and in particular the manner in which intertexts are used, also reflect both historical and thematic changes in the development of the Merlion anthology. Thumboo first sees poetry as something that confers a national identity: the Merlion is constructed as a symbol that Singaporeans can identify with. Lee contests this and Sa’at stages their conflict. As each poet submits his Merlion poem to the canon, he or she participates not only in the poetic dialogue but also in the debate of what the Merlion means to Singapore, how art can have a place in politics, and what he or she has to say about national identity and poetry. As such, only through a study of the entire hypertext of the Merlion poetry can a clear picture of the dialogue of national identity be outlined. Just as the Merlion is half-fish, half-beast, the hypertext of the Merlion poetry is half literary, half political contestation; the complex relations the poems have to the Western literary canon, to each other and to contemporary events and notions of national identity reflect how the literature of politics and the politics of literature converge in the Merlion poetry.
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Allen, Graham. 2000. Intertextuality: Critical Idioms. London; New York: Routledge. Chia, Grace. 2004. “The Merlion at Crazy Horse.” Online posting. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. Forum: “Another Merlion Poem! (sorry…)”, 11 August www.qlrs. com/forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=9 (accessed 3 April 2009). Easthope, Anthony and MacGowan, Kate (editors). 2004. A Critical and Cultural Theory Reader. Maidenhead: Open University Press. Eliot, T.S. 1917. “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” The Waste Land and Other Poems. Edited by Frank Kermode. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. 4 – 8. Eliot, T.S. 1922. “The Waste Land”. The Waste Land and Other Poems. Edited by Frank Kermode. New York: Penguin Books, 2003. 53 – 70. Eliot, T.S. 1925. “The Hollow Men.” Columbia University SCFU4016 – The History of Communication. Course Website. www.columbia.edu/itc/tc/scfu4016/hollow.html (accessed 19 July 2010). Genette, Gérard. 1997. Palimpsests: Literature in the second degree. Translated by Channa Newman and Claude Doubinsky. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Gooneratne, Yasmine. 1986. “Edwin Thumboo - Ulysses by the Merlion.” Critical engagements: Singapore poems in focus. Edited by Kirpal Singh. Singapore: Heinemann Asia. 7-16. Gui, Wei Hsin. 2004. “Telemachus by the Merlion.” Online posting. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. Forum: “Another Merlion Poem! (sorry…)”, 20 July. www.qlrs.com/ forum/topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=9 (accessed 2 April 2009). Kang, Lynnette. 2008. “What strange manner of beast is this?: The Merlion as state symbol.” Research paper for National University of Singapore (NUS) module USE2304: The Making of A Nation. Lee, Tzu Pheng. 1997. “The Merlion to Ulysses.” Lambada By Galilee & Other Surprises. Singapore: Times Books International. Lim, Shirley Geok-lin. 1989. “The English-language writer in Singapore.” In Management of Success: The Moulding of Modern Singapore. Edited by Kernial Singh Sandhu and Paul Wheatley. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. 523 – 553. Marlowe, Christopher. 1604. Doctor Faustus. Edited by Bevington, David and Eric Rasmussen. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1993. Ng, Yi-Sheng. 2009. “Anthology.” Reflecting on the Merlion: an anthology of poems. Edited by Edwin Thumboo and Yeow Kai Chai. Singapore: First Fruits Publications. 30. Pang, Alvin. 1998. “Merlign”. Riding the Meridian. www. heelstone.com/meridian/pang.html (accessed 2 April 2009). Patke, Rajeev S. 1998. “Singapore and The Two Ulysses.” The Arts 6: 24 - 30. Pearsall, Cornelia D.J.. Tennyson’s Rapture: Transformation In The Victorian Dramatic Monologue. New York : Oxford University Press, 2008. Rowlinson, Matthew. 1993. “Mourning and Metaphor: On the Literality of Tennyson’s ‘Ulysses’.” Boundary 20.2: 230 – 265. Sa’at, Alfian. 1998. “The Merlion.” One Fierce Hour. Singapore: Landmark Books. Sa’at, Alfian. 2004. “Tits on the Merlion? Or, alternative Hellenised title: Circe as the Merlion.” Online posting. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. Forum: “Another Merlion Poem! (sorry…)”, 21 July. www.qlrs.com/forum/ topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=9 (accessed 3 April 2009). Sa’at, Alfian. 2005. “Empty Signifiers Make the Most Noise.” In MIKE. Venice Biennale, Exhibit Catalogue. Singapore: National Arts Council and Singapore Art Museum. Shiau, Daren. 2000. “Merlion Speaks.” Peninsular: Archipelagoes and Other Poems. Singapore: Ethos Books. Singh, Kirpal. 2002. “Towards A Singapore Classic: Edwin Thumboo’s ‘Ulysses by the Merlion’.” Singaporean Literature in English: A Critical Reader. Edited by Mohammah A. Quayum and Peter Wicks. Serdang, Selangor: Universiti Putra Malaysia Press. 290 - 298. Tan, Paul. 2000. “The Merlion’s Haiku.” The Straits Times, 12 August. 8 - 9. Tennyson, Alfred. 1833. “Ulysses”. The Victorian Web. www. victorianweb.org/authors/tennyson/ulyssestext.html (accessed 2 April 2009). Thumboo, Edwin. 1977. “Developing a distinctive style in local writing: Notes and speculations.” In Developing creative writing in Singapore. Edited by Nalla Tan and Chandran Nair. Singapore: Woodrose Publications. 19-29. courses. nus.edu.sg/course/ellthumb/site/doc/8.html (accessed 19 July 2010). Thumboo, Edwin. 1979. “Ulysses By The Merlion.” Ulysses By The Merlion. Singapore: Heinemann Educational Books. Thumboo, Edwin and Yeow, Kai Chai (editors). 2009. Reflecting on the Merlion: an anthology of poems. Singapore: First Fruits Publications. Toh, Hsien Min. 2004. “Thetis by the Merlion.” Online posting. Quarterly Literary Review Singapore. Forum: “Another Merlion Poem! (sorry…)”, 21 July. www.qlrs.com/forum/ topic.asp?TOPIC_ID=9 (accessed 2 April 2009).
Christine Chong was a USP student and is currently continuing her studies as a Graduate Research Scholar in English Literature at NUS.
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Contractualism On Saving The Greater Number1
In situations where we have to choose between saving a smaller and greater number of people, why should we save the latter? Thomas Scanlon’s account purports to be able to explain why, without recourse to moral aggregation, but it does not appear to be immediately clear that he can do that.
Lim Chong Ming
contractualism. Rescue Case: There are three persons trapped on two different islands. On one island is trapped one person, A, and on the other island, two, B and C. Jill is the captain of a rescue boat, but her boat is in a position such that the two islands are equidistant from her in opposite directions. There will soon be a giant wave which will drown all the unsaved persons, and she has time to go to only one of the two islands.5 All three persons have the same complaint – their impending death. Towards which island should Jill steer the boat? It seems intuitive that she ought to steer it towards the island where there are two people, B and C – and this is a conclusion that Scanlon wishes to establish as well. But what would the reason for saving B and C be, if any? Do we save the two simply because they are more? If it were so, then one of the central tenets – the notion of justifiability to persons – of Scanlon’s contractualism would be violated: Justifiability to Each Person: The justifiability of a moral principle depends only on various individuals’ reasons for objecting to that principle and alternatives to it.6 We have, at the outset, seen the primacy of justifiability to persons in Scanlon’s entire project. So, if we cannot explain why Jill should save the greater number (or why it is wrong for her not to save the greater number) using Scanlon’s formulation, then it seems as if it does not have the explanatory force it purports to have. Yet, given the need for justifiability to each individual, how can the contractualist make the claim that Jill should save B and C instead of A? It seems clear that it is not possible for him to say that ‘Jill should save the two because the weight of the two complaints outweigh that of one,’ as that justification violates the notion of taking only individuals’ reasons. It is a violation because the principle of Justifiability to Each Person, as formulated by Scanlon, only allows for the reasons of each individual to be weighed against another, and combining complaints or reasons is not allowed.7 Now that the preliminaries have been established, let us formulate the problem of aggregation. Aggregation Problem: How do we allow for someone to save the greater number without aggregating the strength of their reasons or complaints? In relation to this Aggregation Problem, Scanlon’s view is that we need to formulate a principle that permits us to save the greater number without aggregating the strength of reasons or complaints of the individuals. Let us consider the alternatives. A principle that dictates we ought to save the smaller group, in situations like the Rescue Case, is just
canlon’s account of contractualism2 makes the claim that it is able to allow for the distinctions between what is morally right and wrong, and still account for the full force of our judgments between right and wrong. Essentially, he purports to have a theory that is good, and which fits our moral intuitions. He claims that when we say that an action is wrong, what we mean is that we “could not justify [that action] to others on grounds [we] could expect them to accept.”3 The implication of this is that there is already a notion of the other person (presumably a victim, or at least a non-beneficiary) involved in our account of what is wrong. This formulation has the benefit of grounding our notion of duties in the human, instead of talking about them as abstract ideas. Scanlon believes that this characterisation “describes wrongness in a way that provides plausible answers”4 to the question of what kind of reasoning we are going through, when we are thinking about right and wrong. In this essay, I discuss whether Scanlon’s contractualism is able to deal with the problem of interpersonal aggregation, formulated below, without sacrificing what it takes to be one of its core tenets – that of justifiability to persons. I will consider in detail several strong charges that have been fielded against contractualism’s response to the problem of aggregation. Through the discussion, I hope to establish that, contrary to what Scanlon believes, contractualism seems to have no clear way out of the problem of aggregation, as the problem it eventually runs into is one of language.
Aggregation and Contractualism
First, let us consider an example in which the problem of aggregation poses a threat to
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unintuitive. And if we were to allow for a principle that permits Jill to save either the smaller or the larger group, then the additional person in the larger group could raise the objection that his life had not been given the same moral significance as anyone else, since his presence “makes no difference to what the agent is required to do or to how she is required to go about deciding what to do.”8 Scanlon then argues for what I shall call the Tie Breaker Argument: The reason presented by the needs of a second person in one of these two groups must at least have the power to break this tie.9 The tie involved here in the Rescue Case is one between the complaints of A and of B. Scanlon argues that we must apply the Tie Breaker Argument to the Rescue Case – upon application, we will see that the tie that is generated by the equal and competing complaints of A and B will be broken by C’s complaint. Scanlon thinks that this line of reasoning seems to “have great force.”10 “trying to have his cake and eat it too.”14 Rahul Kumar comes to Scanlon’s defence on this point by suggesting that the correct way is not to think of A’s claims of balancing, but as “neutralising”15 B’s claims. For Kumar, the fact that A’s and B’s complaints are equal means that they should be “set aside for purposes of the rescuer’s decision concerning the direction in which she ought to direct her boat.”16 After this setting aside of A’s and B’s claims, there will be “only one remaining undefeated claim, namely C’s.”17 So the rescuer should steer her boat towards the island with C on it. B will be rescued as well when the rescuer reaches the island, but his rescue will be due purely to good luck and nothing more. So, instead of Otsuka’s conception of the balancing scale, Kumar proposes that we think of the claims of A and B as being settled and put aside after they are duly considered. This way, there is no combination of the claims of B and C as Otsuka purports. For Kumar, this is a reading of Scanlon which makes better sense and avoids contradiction. Yet I do not think Kumar’s defence of Scanlon works. It may avoid the charge of aggregation, but it runs into another problem that may prove to be as sticky, if not more so. If we were to treat the Rescue Case according to Kumar’s suggestion, A and B can object that their claims are not taken seriously. Why their objections are valid, even though we would already have considered their competing claims before moving on to C, can be seen by considering the following example: Interview Case: Two people, X and Y, are applying for one open position in a company. They are equally qualified, and the employer takes an equal liking to both. The employer is undecided as to whom he ought to employ. At this point, he finds out that a new person, Z, has just applied for the job. Extending Kumar’s suggestion, what the employer has to do is as follows: He has to first put aside the claims of X and Y against each other. He will then find that they balance, or neutralise, each other. Then he considers Z’s claims. Because there is only one remaining undefeated claim, namely Z’s, the employer has to give the position to Z. This does not make sense; yet this seems to be what Kumar would have to agree to. What he has done, in his attempt to save Scanlon from the charge of aggregation, is to shift C’s claims to another level where it does not compete with A’s and B’s claims – just as how, extending his analysis, Z’s job application does not compete with X’s and Y’s. This is simply not an intuitive solution. It is intuitive for us to think that the claims of A, B and C – or of X, Y and Z — should compete on the same level respectively. There is no reason why C’s claims should not compete at the same level as A’s and B’s. As Timmermann puts it succinctly, the “individual
Critique of Scanlon
However, I do not think that the Tie Breaker Argument works. This is because it rests on an assumption that is challengeable – which is that competing reasons for individuals are able to be “balanced” against each other. What is this sense of balancing, and how exactly is it to be done? According to Michael Otsuka,11 the Tie Breaker Argument does not work against the charge of aggregation, because the balancing in it still involves an implicit aggregation of the complaints of B and C. Let us consider this argument. Scanlon claims that in the Tie Breaker, a “second reason of [one] ... can balance the first” of the same kind. Otsuka’s contention is that the balancing is loaded with what Scanlon himself rejects – aggregation.12 He asks us to imagine a scenario where the complaints of A and B are put on a balancing scale. A’s complaints are put on the left, and B’s are put on the right. Scanlon thinks that because the complaints of B are equal in kind to that of A (wanting to be saved from death), they are balanced. And C’s complaints then come in to the picture to break this tie. Otsuka argues that the only way C’s complaints can do so is if C’s complaints are added to the right of the balancing scale, which then tips the scale to the right. Otsuka argues that this is tantamount to considering C’s complaints “in combination”13 with B’s; otherwise, C’s complaints would not have the power to break the tie. Aggregation of complaints has been committed implicitly by Scanlon, and the principle of Justifiability to Each Person is violated. As such, contractualism appeals to the sort of claims that it purports to exclude; in Otsuka’s words, Scanlon is
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claims of persons can never simply be paired up with, and struck off by, the weight of another, admittedly equal claim.”18 by factoring their claims positively into the decisionmaking process without aggregating them. How could something like a weighted lottery be carried out? Timmermann suggests the idea of a wheel of fortune.21 In a case like the Rescue Case above, a wheel with three sectors would be drawn up, with the names of each person stuck on the island written on each of the three sections. Presumably a wheel is spun, and the person whose name comes up will be saved. And if B’s name comes up, then Jill would have to steer the boat towards B. Upon reaching the island with B on it, she then incurs an obligation to save C. Similarly, if C wins, B is also saved. As such, no one person’s claim is balanced or struck off, nor is there any aggregation involved. It seems that a principle like that would not fall prey to the objections of aggregation or disrespect. Scanlon, however, thinks that such a principle is unnecessary. Given that there is already a good reason – the Tie Breaker Argument – in the Rescue Case above, to save the group with the two people; there is “no reason”22 to bring in an alternative explanation as to why we have to save the larger group. However, we have already seen, the Tie Breaker Argument is not as infallible as Scanlon wishes it to be, so the reasons behind Scanlon’s rejection of the use of the Weighted Lottery are unconvincing. However, the weighted lottery solution runs into a more serious problem – it can produce unintuitive results that it itself may not be willing to accept. Let us consider the Large Rescue Case. If a Weighted Lottery were to be involved in the decision-making procedure, there is a chance that we would be compelled to rescue the group with only one person and forsake the island with a thousand people on it. This seems to be what we might run ourselves into if we were to accept such a principle. But it does not seem intuitive, even with a fair procedure like the Weighted Lottery, that we would feel compelled to rescue the one person instead of the one thousand people. Nor would we think that it is right to save the one person should that one person win the lottery. The Weighted Lottery cannot account for why it is nevertheless right to save the one thousand people even though one person won that lottery. It also cannot say, intuitively, that the right thing to do is to save the one person who wins the lottery. Besides, how are we supposed to carry out the Weighted Lottery in actual circumstances? Carrying a computer able to make such calculations just seems awkward.
Allowing the complaints of each individual to compete at the same level, we see that it is problematic to claim that we ought to save the greater number, It now seems that the idea of a lottery is perhaps plausible. An ostensibly simple solution comes to mind – that is, a coin toss. However, while tossing a coin allows all the claims to compete at the same level, it is not immune to problems. While tossing a coin gives each of the two groups an equal chance of being saved, the members of the larger group can reasonably reject a principle dictating that in scenarios like the Rescue Case, all that is required to determine which direction the rescue boat should take is a simple coin toss. Their objection will be that the procedure of tossing a coin shows neither enough respect nor consideration for each of the members in the larger group. This is especially so when there is a much larger number of people in the larger group, as in the Large Rescue Case: There are people trapped on two different islands. On one island is trapped one person, and on the other, one thousand people. Jill is the captain of a rescue boat, but her boat is in a position such that the two islands are equidistant from her in opposite directions. There will soon be a giant wave which will drown all the unsaved persons, and she has time to go to only one of the two islands.19 In this scenario, it does seem absurd for the rescuer to toss a coin to decide where to go. An individual in the larger group can object to a principle that allows for a decision to be made via tossing a coin, on the account of the fact that the one thousand people are treated as making a claim that is as strong as that made by one person. At this point, one can bring in the notion of a Weighted lottery: If one had to choose between saving group A, containing four people, and group B, containing five, then one should use a procedure that has a four-ninths chance of favouring A and a five-ninths chance of favouring B.20 This gives every person’s life a positive weight; each person’s life affects the procedure and result in the same, equal way. This way, the problem of aggregation and that of claims competing at different levels have been avoided. The procedure of using the weighted lottery respects the claims of each individual
The notion of relevance
How can we explain this intuition that we should save the greater number? One could bite the bullet, and claim that our intuition is faulty and that it is indeed right for us, in the case that the one person in
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the Large Rescue Case wins the lottery, to save him instead of the one thousand people. But is it really the case? Moreover, I doubt that having to save one instead of one thousand, even with the Weighted Lottery, is a claim that Scanlon wants to make. Scanlon wants to incorporate into the contractualist the conclusion that we should always save the greater number in scenarios such as the Rescue Case, or the Large Rescue Case, not, as the Weighted Lottery claims, save them most of the time. But how can he do it? Perhaps we can find the solution in the idea of relevance. Before we do that, let us consider one additional case, the Larger Rescue Case: There are people trapped on two different islands. On one island there are 1000 people, and on the other, 1001 people. Jill is the captain of a rescue boat, but her boat is in a position such that the two islands are equidistant from her in opposite directions. There will soon be a giant wave which will drown all the unsaved persons, and she has time to go to only one of the two islands.23 Now let us consider Frances Kamm’s formulation of relevance.24 In the Larger Rescue Case, Kamm thinks that it may be “correct to ignore the difference of one life,”25 and use a procedure like a Weighted Lottery to decide the direction in which the boat should be steered. It would be wrong for the rescuer to save the 1001 people directly. However, in the Larger Rescue Case (as mentioned earlier), the rescuer should save the 1000 people directly without having to resort to the Weighted Lottery.26 But how does that work out? In the Larger Rescue Case, the additional life on the island with just one more person becomes an “irrelevant utility,” according to Kamm.27 That is to say, given that the chances for life of each individual in the Larger Rescue Case are already about-equal (as they would be, if a procedure like the Weighted Lottery were conducted), it is wrong for the rescuer to go directly to save the group with the larger number.28 Here in the Larger Rescue Case, Kamm thinks that the small difference in the number of people, between 1000 and 1001, is not a relevant consideration that the rescuer has to make when deciding which island to steer the boat towards. In this case, Kamm thinks that something like the Weighted Lottery should be adopted, giving about-equal chances to both groups of people. However, in the example of the Large Rescue Case where the decision rests between choosing to rescue one person or 1000 people, Kamm would argue that one should go to save the latter directly, because the difference between the numbers of people on each island is considerably large. I think Kamm’s idea of relevance between numbers has the advantage of being intuitive. However, Iwao Hirose would disagree with Kamm. He does not think that the additional life that could be saved in the Larger Rescue Case is an irrelevant utility.29 He thinks that the one additional life that is on one of the islands in the Larger Rescue Case presents a relevant consideration. Hirose thinks that the way to go about solving the Larger Rescue Case is to say that even though the additional life is a relevant consideration, it is outweighed by some other consideration30 (and not, contra Kamm, deny the relevance of the additional life). In this way, the one additional person is given his due respect – and the principle of Justifiability to Each Person is not violated. For Hirose, this other consideration is the notion of unfairness. For him, “unfairness is a negative factor,”31 and the badness of unfairness is determined by the people who are its victims. As Hirose claims, when the claims of A are not satisfied equally in relation to the claims made by B, and A is disadvantaged, A can object that it is unfair to him. Let us consider the Simple Rescue Case: There are two persons trapped on two different islands. On one island is trapped one person, P, and on the other, Q. Jillis the captain of a rescue boat, but her boat is in a position such that the two islands are equidistant from her in opposite directions. There will soon be a giant wave which will drown the unsaved person, and she has time to go to only one of the two islands.32 According to Hirose, if the rescuer were to save P, Q can complain that his claims have not been satisfied equally. This is because while P and Q have equal claims to being saved, only P’s claims have been satisfied whereas Q’s claim is not satisfied, resulting in an obvious inequality in the satisfaction of the equal claims made by both. Representing unfairness done to one person as u, Hirose thinks that we should toss a coin (or use a decisional procedure like the Weighted Lottery) in the case that u is more important than the good of saving lives. However, if u is less important than the good of saving additional lives, then one saves the group with the larger number of people. Let us consider this in the context of the Large Rescue Case. Here, if we were to rescue the 1000 people, then we would be doing something unfair to the one person on the other side, for, according to Hirose, that one person can complain that it is unfair that we do not rescue him. But if we were to save the one person, the 1000 people can all claim that it is unfair that we do not save them. Here, Hirose departs from the contractualism as propounded by Scanlon, and aggregates the claims of unfairness of the 1000 people. Hirose thinks that “unfairness done to 1,000 people is greater than the
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unfairness done to one person”33 – 1000u is worse than simply u. So, in the Large Rescue Case, the rescuer should definitely go for the island with 1000 people directly, without having to resort to flipping a coin or using a procedure like the Weighted Lottery. What would Hirose say about a case like the Rescue Case? If we were to save the one person, A, there would be 2u from B and C’s complaints of unfairness. But if we were to save the two people, B and C, there would be only u. However, instead of saying that we need to save the two people, Hirose would say that we ought to flip a coin. How does he come to this decision? He proposes this method of jurisdiction: How Numbers Count: First, when we measure the overall badness of unfairness: If the number of the smaller group gets larger, it works in favour of tossing a coin. Second, when we measure the good of extra lives saved: If the difference between two groups gets larger, it works in favour of saving the greater number.34 So in the Rescue Case, because the number of the smaller group is “large” in relation to the larger group, the rescuer ought to toss a coin to decide. However, in the Large Rescue Case, because the difference between the two groups is large (1 versus 1000), the rescuer ought to rescue the greater number. It might be helpful to point out that what actually underlies Hirose’s idea of How Numbers Count is the notion of relevance between numbers. Essentially, he has not departed much from Kamm’s claim that in the case where the numerical difference between the two groups is not large, as in the Rescue Case and the Larger Rescue Case, numbers are not a relevant factor, but in the Large Rescue Case, numbers are a relevant consideration. What is at stake here is essentially a matter of phrasing. It may be clearer to see why it is the case when we consider the following example: Moderately Large Rescue Case: There are people trapped on two different islands. On one island, there are 500 people, and on the other island, 700 people. Jill is the captain of a rescue boat, but her boat is in a position such that the two islands are equidistant from her in opposite directions. There will soon be a giant wave which will drown all the unsaved people, and she has time to go to only one of the two islands.35 What would Hirose say of this Moderately Large Rescue Case? His account of How Numbers Count cannot be applied precisely to this case, unless we decide whether the difference of 200 additional lives that would be saved if the rescuer goes for the larger group is a relevant consideration that outweighs the unfairness of not saving 500 lives. Kamm’s notion of relevance of lives in different situations is still implicitly present in Hirose’s account of How Numbers Count. This is why the Kamm-Hirose dispute on the notion of relevance can be seen to be simply a matter of phrasing. In addition, Hirose departs from the contractualist model of non-aggregation of claims – his attempt to save the contractualist is undercut by his implicit aggregating of the claims of individuals through his calculations of unfairness. In all, it is difficult to see why we ought to accept Hirose’s arguments over Kamm’s, even if it were true that Kamm’s arguments do not work. By this point, we have seen that the proposed solution to the Aggregation Problem by Kumar – that of neutralising competing claims or complaints – does not work, and Otsuka’s critique of Scanlon – that there is implicit aggregation in the Tie-Breaker Argument – still stands. We have also seen how Hirose’s critique of Kamm’s attempts to reframe the problem by drawing our attention to the notion of the relevance between numbers runs into more problems than Kamm’s proposal. We should not be too quick to say that Kamm has gotten it right. The idea of “relevance” is problematic as it implicates the following two assumptions, which I have adapted from Norcross:36 Transitivity Assumption: Given any three numbers – M, N and O – M being the greatest and O being the smallest, the relevance of N to M, and the relevance of O to N, entails the relevance of O to M. Continuity Assumption: Consider a descending scale of numbers, from the greatest to the smallest. The difference between any two adjacent numbers is no larger than is necessary for the smaller number to be relevant to the greater. Suppose also that for every number on the scale above the smallest, there is some smaller number that is relevant to it. Accepting these two assumptions together entails that the smallest number is relevant to the biggest number – we would run into a situation where, if we held on to these two assumptions, we have to say that 1 is relevant to 1000. If we reject the Continuity Assumption while preserving the Transitivity Assumption, we have to find a threshold directly under which a number ceases to be relevant to another number, and over which a number becomes relevant to another number, when the two numbers below and above the threshold are directly adjacent to each other. Where should the line be drawn? Would the threshold be something like “numbers less than 10” – in which case any two numbers less than 10 would not be relevant to each other? Why the threshold is not at 50, or at 100, appears completely arbitrary. If we were to reject the Transitivity Assumption
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while keeping the Continuity Assumption, we run into other problems. An example will illustrate the problem better: Rejecting Transitivity: Suppose that (a) 1,000 lives is relevant to 1,500 lives, (b) 500 lives is relevant to 1,000 lives, and (c) 500 lives is not relevant to 1,500 lives. In scenario (i), one is presented with saving either 1,000 or 1,500 lives; in (ii), one is presented with saving either 500 or 1,000 lives; in (iii), one is presented with saving either 500 or 1,500 lives; and in (iv), one is presented with saving either 500 or 1,000 or 1,500 lives. When we are presented with (i), we toss a coin to save either 1,000 or 1,500 lives. (ii) necessitates a coin toss too. And in (iii) we do not have to toss a coin; we just go straight to rescue the 1,500 lives. But what if we are presented with all three options, as in (iv)? Do we toss a coin? Rejecting transitivity means that we cannot adjudicate between tossing a coin or directly rescuing the largest group. We see that the notion of “relevance” is not as simple as it seems. grains of wheat do not. If 2 grains of wheat do not make a heap, then 3 grains do not. … If 9,999 grains of wheat do not make a heap, then 10,000 do not. --------------------------------------------------------10,000 grains of wheat do not make a heap.38 I believe that the problem that lies in trying to establish a threshold for “relevance between numbers” is at least analogous to the problem in trying to establish a threshold for the point at which a collection of grains of wheat does make up a “heap.” Both seem to be problems that are deeply entrenched in the way we use language. In this sense, I am claiming that the idea of “relevance” is as vague a notion as the word “heap” (or basically those other words that typically feature in Sorites paradoxes, such as “baldness” or “poor”). My claim here also entails that unless a reasonable, unanimous solution to the Sorites Paradoxes is arrived at, we may never be able to find a solution to the question of relevance between numbers. A solution has to be found not in political philosophy or ethics alone, but in the philosophy of language. So, I claim that the contractualist is warranted in rejecting the Continuity Assumption, and in accepting the fact that he has to allow for the arbitrary setting of a threshold beyond which a smaller number no longer becomes relevant to a larger number. This move is warranted because the issue here seems to be not a problem with contractualism per se (as per our discussion of Kamm), but a deeper philosophical issue concerning language. The contractualist who wishes to arrive at conclusions has to take this certain philosophical problem with language as “solved.” This is not unique to just the contractualist: I believe that this claim can similarly be extended to proponents of other theories that come into contact with the idea of relevance.
A larger problem
However, it does not mean that we have reason to simply throw the notion of relevance between numbers out of the window. In the Rejecting Transitivity case presented above, I believe that when we are faced with (iv), we still intuitively would go for rescuing the 1,500 lives. How might we explain this? Consider the three options: accepting both the Transitivity and Continuity Assumptions, and rejecting one of the two alternatively. I believe that it may not be quite so absurd to accept the Transitivity Assumption while rejecting the Continuity Assumption. While what this means is that we have to set an arbitrary threshold to determine when numbers stop being relevant to each other – as per my example about numbers below 10 – I do not believe it is as serious a problem as rejecting Transitivity. How, then, can we resolve the charge that the idea of relevance, which seems to be our only hope in avoiding the problem of aggregation in the Rescue Case, is problematic? I suggest that we might find a solution in comparing what we are facing now (the problem of having to find a threshold) with the Sorites Paradoxes.37 Let us consider one such paradox: Sorites Paradox (Heap): 1 grain of wheat does not make a heap. If 1 grain of wheat does not make a heap, then 2
So what have we come to? First I considered Otsuka’s critique of Scanlon on balancing and competing claims and reasons, and Kumar’s response to that. Arguing that Kumar’s response has its problems, I suggested that the problem of competing reasons could find resolution via a decisional procedure like a lottery. But we realised that the procedure of the Weighted Lottery, though fair, is problematic as it could run us into situations in which we say that the right thing to do is to save the lesser number.
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I then considered Kamm’s proposal that the notion of relevance is what is perhaps needed to solve the problem of saving the greater number – if the difference in numbers between the two groups of people to be rescued are relevant to each other, then the Weighted Lottery is employed; otherwise, the rescuer steers towards the larger group immediately. This avoids the problem of just applying the Weighted Lottery indiscriminately across any two groups of people. Along the way, Hirose’s critique of Kamm was put aside as being simply a dispute over phrasing. Kamm’s two-part solution has the advantage of being intuitive, yet it is not sufficiently clear because we have yet to come to a unanimous agreement on the issue of relevance. Also, Kamm has only “solved” part of the problem – while the use of the Weighted Lottery works as a decisional procedure when the numbers of the two groups of people are relevant to each other, it does not account for instances where the numbers of the two groups are irrelevant to each other – as in the Large Rescue Case. How would the rescuer justify her saving the bigger group to the one person – simply because the bigger group is substantially more? Her justification still leaves unexplained why it is that we are allowed to, and should, save the bigger group (as in the Large Rescue Case) directly without any decisional procedure that takes the smaller group into account. So we are left with two problems that need to be resolved: first, that the idea of relevance is vague and there currently seems no way out of it; second, that even if there were to be a clear agreement on relevance, we would still have to account for why the smaller group can be ignored directly simply based on it being substantially smaller. Scanlon, or any other contractualist for that matter, ought to find answers to these, or at least recognise the problems posed to the theory, before his project may be restated.
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1 2 Originally written for the Graduate Seminar, Philosophy 290-5: Contractualism and its critics, at UC Berkeley, Fall 2009. The formulation of contractualism that I will be considering in this essay will be from Thomas M. Scanlon, What We Owe to Each Other (Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998). I will also take contractualism to refer to Scanlon’s formulation of it, unless otherwise stated. Scanlon, What We Owe, 4. Scanlon, What We Owe, 4. The Rescue Case also assumes several other parameters: that Jill does not know, nor is related to, any of the individuals; that she does not have any preferences when it comes to which direction she ought to take; that the strength of each individual’s complaint is equally strong (death); that each of them had equal chances of ending up where they were; that the way each of the individuals landed up in the situations they are in is not morally relevant; and that Jill’s boat is big enough to save everyone on the island she chooses to go. Scanlon, What We Owe, 229, emphasis his. The reason why Scanlon does not want to combine the claims of individuals, and the reason why he only appeals to individuals’ reasons and complaints, is the result of him wanting this portion of his theory to fit in with his larger project, which is beyond the scope of this essay to discuss. However, for the purposes of our discussion, we need only keep in mind that he does not want to aggregate the claims and complaints of individuals – and we shall consider how that is problematic. Scanlon, What We Owe, 232. Scanlon, What We Owe, 232. Scanlon, What We Owe, 232. Michael Otsuka, “Scanlon and the claims of the many versus the one,” Analysis 60 (2000), 291. Otsuka, “Scanlon and the claims of the many versus the one,” 291. Otsuka, “Scanlon and the claims of the many versus the one,” 291. Otsuka, “Scanlon and the claims of the many versus the one,” 292. Rahul Kumar, “Contractualism on saving the many,” Analysis 61 (2001), 167. Kumar, “Contractualism on saving the many,” 167. Kumar, “Contractualism on saving the many,” 167. Jens Timmermann, “The individualist lottery: how people count, but not their numbers,’”Analysis 64 (2004), 109. As in the Rescue Case, the Large Rescue Case assumes several other parameters. See note 5. Scanlon, What We Owe, 233. Timmermann, “The individualist lottery: how people count, but not their numbers.” Scanlon, What We Owe, 234. See note 3. Frances Kamm, Morality, Mortality, vol. 1 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), 103. Kamm, Morality, 103. This is a weaker claim. I think Kamm might say that one should not resort to the Weighted Lottery in situations such as the Large Rescue Case. The claim that I have presented just asserts that the rescuer does not have to use the Weighted Lottery, not that she should not use it. Kamm, Morality, 103. Kamm, Morality, 103. Iwao Hirose, “Aggregation and Numbers,” Utilitas 16 (2004), 74. Hirose, “Aggregation and Numbers,” 75. Hirose, “Aggregation and Numbers,” 75. See note 3. Hirose, “Aggregation and Numbers,” 77. Hirose, “Aggregation and Numbers,” 78-9. See note 5. The problem of relevance that I will discuss in what follows is inspired by Alistair Norcross’s discussion of the difficulty of establishing thresholds of relevance between different harms, in Alistair Norcross, “Contractualism and Aggregation,” Social Theory and Practice 28 (2002), 303 – 14. However, I believe that his discussion can be extended to explain why there is a serious difficulty in establishing thresholds of relevance between the numbers of persons involved in different versions of the Rescue Case. Any error in my extension of Norcross’s argument is mine alone. 37 Dominic Hyde, “Sorites Paradox,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/soritesparadox/, accessed 14 June 2010. 38 Hyde, “Sorites Paradox,” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy,http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/soritesparadox/, accessed 14 June 2010.
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Lim Chong Ming is a fourth-year student in the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, majoring in Philosophy.
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Kollywood and the Indian Tamil Diaspora
Representations of overseas Tamil communities by India’s Tamil cinema have undergone a significant change since the late 1990s. How is this change from parochialism to consumerist cosmopolitanism evident on screen and what inspired it?
“culture of consumption.” “Culture of consumption” is a phrase used to describe “any society in which the acquisition of material goods is viewed as a major defining feature of daily life” (Gordon 2001: 392393). Yet, it is a consumerist modernity that the Tamil Diaspora family in Jeans is comfortable with, as is established in the film’s exposition, situated in the characters’ suburbia homes and luxury cars. The “culture of consumption,” conspicuous and replete throughout the text, thus fashions a focal point of analysis for the shifting modes of representing the Tamil Diaspora by India’s Tamil cinema. The iconicity of Jeans lay as much in its immense commercial success, with the chart-busting music by Oscar-winning composer A. R. Rahman and aesthetic extravagance, as in its enunciation of difference in the portrayals of overseas Tamil communities. This is in comparison to other preceding films that showcase the Tamil Diaspora, such as the equally iconic Ninaithaalae Inikkum (“Sweet Memories,” dir. K. Balachander 1979). Ninaithaalae Inikkum is a campy musical comedy set in Singapore and follows the travails of a rock band on tour from Tamil Nadu. The film registers on celluloid the imagined cultural distance between the indigenous Tamil and his foreign “other” of similar ethno-linguistic stock. The main narrative thrust of the film follows the rock band’s lead singer Chandru and lead guitarist Deepak (played by then rising stars and now Tamil screen legends Kamalhaasan and Rajinikanth respectively) in their efforts to find an elusive Singaporean Tamil girl Sonia (played by yesteryear actress Jeyapradha) whom Chandru is in love with. Similarly, the musical romance Jeans centers on the struggle of American Tamil Vishwanathan to unite with his Indian Tamil lover Madhumita (played by Miss World Winner 1994 and international film star Aishwarya Rai) against parental opposition from Nacheeappan who insists that his sons marry sisters or another pair of twin girls These otherwise banal plot descriptions should not obfuscate the fact that both films are rich polysemic texts that open up new vistas in understanding the Tamil Diaspora on film. Thus, the question arises: has there been any discernible change in the depictions of the Diaspora by Tamil cinema from Ninaithaalae Inikkum to Jeans? If so, how is this change evident and what inspired it? It is clear that contrary to the principle characters in Jeans, who are secure in their selfhood as overseas Tamils and who have successfully negotiated their ethnic identity with the entrenched culture of consumption in their adopted homeland, the protagonists of Ninaithaalae Inikkum appear ill at ease. As such, it is this paper’s argument that there has been a significant recoding in the representation of overseas Tamil identity from the idiomatic local/foreign dichotomies to a more cosmopolitan outlook that constitutes the contemporary Tamil Diaspora, while at once subsuming the regional
Jeans and Society in the Diaspora
he decision to send the blockbuster Tamil film Jeans (dir. S. Shankar 1998) to the 1999 Academy Awards as an entry under the Best Foreign Film category can be read as a conscious effort by India’s intellectual and cultural elite to showcase to the world a new cosmopolitan and globalized image that is concomitant with its rising opulence. The film’s foregrounding of the lives of overseas Tamils, specifically those living in the United States of America (U.S.), as part of the collective vicarious experience of the local audience in India calls for critical attention. Jeans became synonymous for hitherto unseen levels of gloss and extravagance in its American setting and song visualizations, highlighting elements of grandeur and spectacle. These elements converge with the carnivalesque in the most peculiar fashion in the first song of the film: Columbus… Columbus! Here the main protagonists, a pair of Non-Residential Indian (NRI) twins, Vishwanathan and Ramamoorthy (both played by actor Prasanth) celebrate their weekend getaway partying on the beach together with their father Nacheeappan (played by veteran actor Nasser). Essentially a pastiche of MTV music videos and Baywatch, the song includes such components as a summer setting on the beach, bikini-clad models prancing in the background and racecars driving around as the family sings for Christopher Columbus to find new lands for them to party in on weekends. The peculiarity of the music video Columbus…Columbus! lies in its mise-enscène. The entire song segment is interspersed with the random and unnecessary destruction of mobile phones, laptops, televisions and cars to underscore the celebrating family’s holiday mood, which stems from their running a fine dining Indian restaurant in Los Angeles. These consumerist products are markers of modernity and their destruction reveals a society of superabundance that euphorically celebrates the
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identity into a larger Indian one in the making of a new cultural narrative. It is imperative to the aims of this discourse is to first situate the reader in the theoretical framework where the studies of popular culture and Diaspora, or transnational movements, converge. This will be followed by an account of these shifts in characterizations to assess their significance to contemporary relations between India and the Diaspora. By identifying the most conspicuous and visible markers of the culture of consumption in Ninaithaalae Inikkum and Jeans, one can argue that components of diasporic existence such as identity, culture, gender relations, food and music have shifted away from the insular towards the inclusively hybrid. cultural phenomena,” involving the synthesis of elements from various cultural heritages to create new hybrid identities. Hence, to trace such negotiations and trajectories is to view the Diaspora as a mode of cultural production and one in which the medium of cinema plays an active role (Vertovec 1997: 290). The study of popular cinema as a means of establishing socio-cultural links between the homeland and the Indian Diaspora has been largely focused on Hindi cinema. Known in contemporary parlance as “Bollywood,” the popular Hindi film industry has been conferred the status of “national cinema” in India. However, the research on Bollywood’s global impact appears to have “marginalized the influence of regional cinemas in the making of diasporic consciousness” (Ravi 2003: 46). One such regional cinema subsumed under the hegemony of Bollywood is that of Tamil cinema, or “Kollywood,” based in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.1 Though Hindi films enjoy a larger viewership amongst the Diaspora in general, Tamil films have a strong cultural presence amongst the majority Tamil-speaking Indian Diaspora in Singapore, Malaysia, and Dubai (Ravi 2003: 46). The thriving proliferation of Tamil cinema in these regions sees an active operation of the nexus between what Arjun Appadurai (1990: 6) calls “ethnoscapes” and “mediascapes”, where displacement “creates new markets… that thrive on the need of the deterritorialized population for contact with its homeland”.2 Nevertheless, Kollywood still maintains its position as a lesser player relative to Bollywood because it has not emulated the latter’s strategy of exploiting the economically significant NRI market. Moreover, as industry insiders claim, Kollywood has a tendency to be more parochial in its marketing, focusing on audiences in Tamil Nadu, whereas Bollywood has been more proactive in seeking out new non-Hindi speaking foreign audiences beyond just the Indian Diaspora communities (Narayanan 2007: 25). In its engagement with the Indian Diaspora, Kollywood is parochial.Tamil cinema has ventured beyond its shores in search of exotic locales for song and dance sequences since the late 1960s after films like Sivantha Mann (“Red Soil”, Dir. C.V.Sridhar 1969) and Ullagum Sutrum Valibhan (“Globe Trotting Hero”, Dir. M.G.Ramachandran 1973). Despite this, Selvaraj Velayutham (2008: 117) observes that its relationship with the Tamil Diaspora is “blasé and at times deeply problematic” and Tamil communities outside India do not appear onscreen frequently. Srilata Ravi (2008: 53) asserts that this emanates from the tendency of Tamil cinema to privilege Tamil language and ethnic pride over national integration since its earliest productions. Besides, Kollywood films do not endorse Tamil hybridity, and globalization is only accepted if Tamil ethnic identity and language are valorized; where it does engage with them, Kollywood
Popular Culture and the Diaspora
The term Diaspora refers to the dispersal of people (voluntarily or involuntarily) from their native land. The word is derived from the Greek words dia (“through” or “over”) and speiro (“dispersal” or “to sow”) and is most commonly associated with the specific Jewish experience of Diaspora (Lal 2006: 14). For our present discussion, the Indian Diaspora is used in a generic sense to refer to people who can claim the modern republic of India as their common ancestral homeland. The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora segments the departure of Indian emigrants into three distinct periods: “The Age of Merchants” (from antiquity to the early 18th century), “The Age of Colonial Capital” (the early 18th century to the mid 20th century), and “The Age of Globalization” (the mid-20th century to present) (Lal 2006: 14). It is necessary to establish that while the history of the Tamil Diaspora largely corresponds to the history of Indian Diaspora, the term refers not just to the ethnic Tamils in India but also to the descendants of Jaffna Tamils from present-day Sri Lanka. However, it would become clear through this discussion that Tamil cinema tends to specifically target the IndianTamil Diaspora in its hyphenated address, though this has not prevented Tamil cinema from being popular amongst Jaffna Tamils as well. As such, it is pertinent to call upon the term Indian-Tamil Diaspora in identifying the intended recipients of Tamil cinema’s cultural transmissions. If Ninaithaalae Inikkum and Jeans are to be defined as cultural products, one must first consider how the Indian Tamil Diaspora is a form of consciousness. The attempt to read both films as a “type of consciousness” is to extrapolate from these texts “a variety of experience[s], a state of mind, and a sense of identity” in their imagination of the Tamil Diaspora (Toloyan 1996: 14). Thus, the semiotics of identity and existence away from home found in the films becomes significant to map the trajectories taken by these overseas communities. Often the Diaspora trajectories involve an act of active negotiation to create what Steven Vertovec (1997: 290) calls “hybrid
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imagines overseas Tamils as being “culturally diluted” (Ravi 2008: 53). This idiosyncratic early vision which assumes that those in the Diaspora community have lost their cultural moorings finds ample repository in Ninaithaalae Inikkum, but has since been challenged by Jeans which recoded conventions thereafter. These hermeneutical coordinates are important in understanding the Diaspora as a consciousness and a form of cultural production. change possibly arose from the reality that the Indian Diaspora market, consisting around 25 million NRIs and “persons of Indian origin,” is a potent economic force with an annual income of around US$300 billion, providing a lucrative market for the consumption of Indian films (Hiscock 2008: 13). R. Radhikaa Sarathkumar, veteran actress and founder of Radaan Mediaworks, an Indian film production company spearheading the refashioning, states that Tamil cinema is “trying to be recognized globally” (Narayanan 2007: 25). She adds that in order to match what Bollywood is doing, Kollywood films have to market themselves better to overseas audiences (Narayanan 2007: 25). One such strategy is to appeal to members of the Indian Diaspora by giving their lives, culture, and locales greater prominence in the filmic narratives. Tamil cinema’s reassessment of diasporic representations has gained verve with the entry of national and multinational production companies into Kollywood. In 2007, companies such as Moser Baer Entertainment, Pyramid Saimira Group, Ayngaran International and UTV Software Communications pumped an estimated total of 800 crore (800 million) rupees into funding Tamil films (Subramanian et. al. 2007: 46). This recent flood of corporate capital follows the gradual entry of foreign corporations into Tamil cinema since the late 1990s. The most notable pioneering entry was that of American Indian Hollywood producer Ashok Amritraj, Chairman of Hyde Park Entertainment, who was also the producer of Jeans. The added capital and the commercial drive to expand market-share are almost certain to ensure that the lives of overseas Tamils in the Indian Diaspora would continue to feature in Kollywood films. With their financial clout, and pertinence to the strengthening of the Indian economy, it comes as no surprise that the celluloid “doubles” of overseas Tamils are no longer “aliens” but an integral part of the national consciousness.
Economics and the Cultural Economy of Kollywood
This paper suggests that the changing representational codes on film are underpinned by the increasing integration of overseas Indians as constituents of the Indian nation in reality. Since the 1990s, a process of economic reforms in the aftermath of a bankruptcy in foreign exchange reserves has been liberalizing the Indian economy to make the best of the opportunities offered by globalization (Kudaisya 2006: 87). In order for India to remain competitive in the global market, it had to “aggressively pull in foreign investments and readily allow for the infusion of new technologies” (Kudaisya 2006: 87). The entrepreneurial drive and specialized knowledge gained by Indian professionals away from home, besides their localized knowledge in Indian languages, culture and social ties to the homeland, offer them a competitive edge over other foreign investors (Lessinger 1999: 71). Many NRIs also speak about their investments in India in terms of a moral obligation to provide jobs and technical expertise to the country they left behind (Lessinger 1999: 71). It is in this context that India re-engaged with its Diaspora, after disengaging from it after independence in 1947 to focus on the nascent Indian state’s own nation-building efforts and to avoid straining good relations with other newly independent African and Asian states that had sizeable Indian communities (Kudaisya 2006: 87). The embrace of overseas Indian communities was marked by shifts in policy. For example, the “Persons of Indian Origin (PIO) Card” introduced in 1998 allowed those who are of Indian origin to travel to India without the need for a visa. More importantly, the landmark announcement in January 2003 granted dual-citizenship to Indians in Britain, Canada, Australia, Finland, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, and the U.S., which was a change to India’s fortyeight year old citizenship act. Thus, it is clear that popular culture responds to political shifts, where images of overseas Indians are constructed by India’s film industries not as foreigners, but very much as a part of the national imaginary. Once associated with regional chauvinism, insularity and a narrower market capture compared to Bollywood, Kollywood has since reinvented itself to appeal to a wider audience. The impetus for this
In both Ninaithaalae Inikkum and Jeans, the “culture of consumption” is a metonymical signifier for the pervasive free-market capitalism evident in seemingly ubiquitous neon-lit advertising signboards, theme parks, casinos, skyscrapers and giant shopping complexes. It is in their assimilation into this culture that establishes the Nacheeappan family’s cosmopolitanism. In contrast, Chandru and Deepak find the foreign locale strangely alien and within days of arriving in Singapore, a Chinese merchant gathering a mob threatens to beat them up if they do not buy a vase (Deepak is actually gesticulating to them for directions). In this comic scene, Deepak ends up buying a 6-foot tall vase which he struggles to carry through the streets of Singapore. Compared to the NRIs in Jeans, the visiting Indians in Ninaithaalae Inikkum find the uninhabitable “new world” of East Asia dangerous and threatening.
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The notion of an exotic but dangerous foreign locale was a consistent trope in Tamil films set overseas before the 1990s. Films like Priya (Dir. S. P. Muthuraman 1978), Varuvan Vadivelan (“Vadivelan will Come”, Dir. K. Sankar 1978), Japanil Kalyanaraman (“Kalyanaraman in Japan”, Dir. S. P. Muthuraman 1985) and Ooru Vittu Ooru Vanthu (“From One Country to Another”, Dir. Ganghei Amaren 1990) are exemplary in this sense. In these films, beneath the magnificence of the modern, prosperous and high-tech East Asian cities lay underbellies of crime and vice, where the IndianTamil heroes have to battle murderous Chinese or Japanese gangsters. It is also instructive that most of these films set in overseas locations fall into the genre of action or crime thrillers, which uses the overseas locales for glamour and excitement. This sense of danger and alienation is underscored when Chandru, Deepak and their band find themselves in the home of Sonia, the Singaporean Tamil woman Chandru is attracted to. The local Tamil man who is Sonia’s father challenges Deepak to the most unusual and disturbing gamble where the stakes are his “Toyota car” (a prized East Asian commodity) for Deepak’s finger if he can flick a cigarette into his mouth (a gimmick actor Rajinikanth has gained idiosyncratic notoriety for!) ten times. After much fear and hesitation, Deepak withdraws from the game in fear of losing his finger. Therefore, in the most corporeally synecdochic way, the intact body and self which signify identity are threatened by the vagaries of the commoditization of society. A remarkable disjuncture from established Tamil cinematic idioms occurs over a game of Antakshari in Jeans, played at a picnic by Madhumita’s family and the family of the Twins.3 The game of Antakshari is used to enunciate a hybridized identity, accounting for a number of cultural heritages, all of which are ultimately sublated under the paramount signifier of the Indian nation. Here, the metonym of the game show is an expression of the “culture of consumption” where material goods -from expensive luxury items to basic consumer products- and even money can be acquired free of charge via victory in the game. Studies of game shows in regional private cable channels in Tamil Nadu reveal that such game shows have become a means of bypassing the national to assert local and sub-national identities (Moorti 2004). While the imitation of the game show in Jeans also becomes “the site where questions of consumption, cultural citizenship, and national identity are worked out” (Moorti 2004: 550), it is instead used to valorize a national Indian identity. During the game of Antakshari the first participant begins with a song asserting the linguistic purism and superiority of the Tamil language from a 1950s film soundtrack. Another member continues with the songs of revolution, separatism, and Tamil nationalism from Tamil matinee idol M.G. Ramachandran’s film Aayirathil Oruvan (“One in a Thousand”, Dir. B. R. Panthulu 1965), which was produced in the 1960s. This is an intertextual allusion to the political successes of the Dravidian nationalist party as the ruling entity in Tamil Nadu during that era. The song is a propagandist mythologizing of the Tamil “mother” as being enslaved by Hindi oppression, while her Tamil sons are fighting for liberation. The songs the family sings when “playing” Antakshari continue to borrow from Kollywood and one member of the family sings Mukkala Muqabala, from the film Kaadalan (“Loverboy”, Dir. S. Shankar 1994), a song that has been described as symptomatic of the “onslaught of globalized culture…[taking] on elements such as rap, MTV [and] the high-tech audio-visual apparatus” (Dhareshwar and Niranjana 2000: 192-193). Thus, metaphorically, the various identities such as the linguistic chauvinism of Tamil nationalism endemic in Tamil cinema and syncretized forms of global youth culture are all accounted for. The last member in the game establishes the final concentric circle of identity that bounds all other vernacular associations into its collectivity when he sings the patriotic Indian national song: Sare Jahan Se Aacha Hindustan Hamara (‘Better than the entire world, is our Hindustan!’). The moment the last contestant begins singing the patriotic song, all other participants in the game stand at attention and sing aloud in unison. Abandoning the referent of commodity culture, the game becomes a jingoistic ritual invoking cultural memory and a liminal connection with the homeland despite spatial differences. This is the most blatant expression of what can be termed the “complex phenomenon of diasporic nationalism” when national ideologies take on an increasingly transnational form (Alessandrini 2001: 336). Hence, in the imaginary of Jeans the overseas Tamil is not culturally diluted but one whose hybridism gains affirmation that despite “having a cosmopolitan mindset, speaking with an English or American accent…his [or her] heart and soul is in the right place, respecting all things Indian” (Dudrah 2006: 103).
Though Ninaithaalae Inikkum avoids overt discussion of the vernacular Tamil identity, it still valorizes the Tamil homeland as the site where ethnic identity is reaffirmed and stabilized. This is achieved through situating the marriage (the basic component of family, community, and identity formation) and the reunion of the estranged couple, Chandru and Sonia, back home in Tamil Nadu. Despite its proclamations of being “Dedicated to the Youth” and posturing the protagonists in the film as rock-stars in the mould of “The Rolling Stones” and “Queen”, Ninaithaalae Inikkum remains incongruently conservative in its gender relations. In Tamil cinema’s imagination, the diasporic Tamil woman, whose attire and speech marks her as modern, “automatically becomes an arrogant, ‘loose’ and sexualized object to be rescued
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by the Indian Tamil hero” (Velayutham 2008: 176). This image has been entrenched in Tamil cinematic representations from as far back as Pudhiya Paravai (“New Bird”, Dir. Dada Mirasi 1964), a murder mystery film, in which the Indian Tamil protagonist’s first wife is a wild and hedonistic Tamil woman from Singapore, whom he cannot control and accidentally kills. Engendering similar formalizations is the female diasporic subject Sonia, whose freedom has given her too much space to transgress, degenerating into a moral corruption that needs union with the Indian Tamil hero Chandru to find redemption.4 Here the commoditization of society takes the most nefarious form, as Sonia’s body is held as ransom by a Singaporean Tamil “loanshark” and she is made to dance in a cabaret till she pays off her debt. By bringing the diasporic, inauthentic, hybridized Singaporean Tamil girl “home to its classicist purity- Tamil Nadu” as the traditional, sari-clad wife desired by the punitive gaze of the Tamil cultural-patriarchal order, the difference is eliminated and the homeland valorized (Ravi 2008: 46). In Jeans, though Madhumita is depicted as a modern, cosmopolitan Indian national through her westernized dressing and command of English, she appears to retain the most traditional attributes of Indian femininity, such as unconditional love and loyalty, as her core values.5 In short, there has indeed been a considerable change in the performance of the Indian Tamil Diaspora’s female identities from Ninaithaalae Inikkum to Jeans. Most significantly, after Jeans, characterizations of diasporic masculinity were also recoded and new conventions introduced into Kollywood as a means of re-presenting the overseas communities. Tamil films before Jeans invariably cast all overseas Tamils in negative roles or as villains who brought the undesirable aspects of Western civilization with them. Instead, the twins Vishwanathan and Ramamoorthy in Jeans are shown to be intelligent, hardworking, well- versed in Tamil culture, respectful of Indian values and display a strong sense of filial piety to their father. The Nacheeappan family, like the diasporic families in Time (Dir. Geetha Krishna 1999), Nala Damayanthi (Dir. Mouli 2003), and London (Dir. Sundar C. 2005), are not entities devoid of cultural moorings but are deeply rooted in Indian family values. Though the films M.Kumaran s/o Mahalakshmi (Dir. M. Raja 2004) and Pudhukottaiyilirundhu Saravanan (“Saravanan from Pudhukottai”, Dir. S. S. Stanley 2004) persist in the older modes of presenting the diaspora, the majority of recent films has adopted a changed perspective in their depictions. Consequently, with the entry of American Tamils directing Kollywood films like Meiporul (“Truth”, Dir. Natty Kumar 2009) and Achchamundu! Achchamundu! (“There is Fear!” Dir. Arun Vaidyanathan 2009), one could see these positive representations, brought about by the process of recoding, becoming entrenched. Particularly illuminating is the recent hit film Unakkum Enakkum (“Between You and I”, Dir. M.Raja 2006), in which the hero is a London NRI and scion of a multi-millionaire who falls in love with a rustic belle from a village in Tamil Nadu. However, her brother, a village hick, is deeply suspicious of the wealthy and so he issues challenge for the NRI: to farm a given plot of barren land and beat him in the harvest for that particular season. Only then will the brother allow the NRI to marry his sister. While the NRI is initially presented as frivolous and happy-go-lucky, he eventually displays steel in meeting the challenge. Not only does he persevere in battling the harsh rural elements that he is unacquainted with, he also uses his intelligence to come up with newer and more innovative techniques in farming. The NRI eventually beats the heroine’s brother and wins the hand of his love. The basic plot of Kannamoochi Yenada? (“Why Hide and Seek?” Dir. V.Priya 2007) follows a similar progression as the NRI hero, a software architect from Malaysia, goes to India to win the heart of a girl he has fallen in love with. Despite the many setbacks in impressing her conservative Indian parents, the NRI eventually wins them over and marries his girl. These two films exemplify the change in conventions since the entry of Jeans into popular culture.
The trope of consumption used in this essay to establish the binaries of local/foreign or parochial/ cosmopolitan is manifest literally in the changing transnational nature of cuisine. In Ninaithaalae Inikkum, Tamil cuisine has a localized identity pegged to the geographical entity of Tamil Nadu. This interpretation stems from Chandru’s sardonic remark to his Mother upon his return home, that just as his Mother will prepare freshly made dosa at home, he had “freshly prepared on the spot- crabs, frogs and snakes” to eat in Singapore, to which his Mother reacts in disgust. These contrasting tastes in food between the “home” cuisine and the strange cuisines of the “foreign” locale prevent assimilation and the “foreign” is maintained at a distance. In contrast, in Jeans, “Indian” or Tamil cuisine takes on a transnational nature in being available even in foreign locales besides just India or Tamil Nadu. This is evident when the heroine’s family is stopped from coming into the U.S. because they had brought containers of preserved pickles, mangoes and lemons; since foreign foods cannot be brought into the U.S., they have to be thrown away. However, when Vishwanathan first bumps into Madhumita and her family in the film’s exposition at the airport, he reassures them that they can find all of these preserved goods and other authentic Indian cuisines in his family restaurant. One can observe that the retention of Indian cuisine in the Tamil Diaspora stems from a feeling of loss of the familiar, which necessitated the need to remember, learn and practice cooking the food
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from the “menu” of the homeland, consuming it as a palliative (Reeves 2006: 111-112). Furthermore, by naming the restaurant “Gandhi- India’s Cuisine” and through the restaurant’s presentation of Tamil and Indian cuisine as well as fusion foods, Jeans dissolves the binaries of local/foreign for an eclectic one. The transformation of cinematic representations and cultural configurations in embrace of consumerist cosmopolitanism is further augmented by the changing nature of Tamil film songs. While Kollywood songs have always been a musical pastiche of various genres and instruments, the industry has been dominated solely by Indian Tamils. However, in the recent hit film Polladhavan (“Ruthless”, Dir. Vetrimaran 2007), Malaysian Indian rapper, Yogi B remixed the classic rock song Engeyum Eppothum (“Anytime, anywhere”) performed in Ninaithaalae Inikkum into a smash hit pandering to modern tastes. Following its spectacular success, Tamil cinema has embraced a new genre of music known as Tamil HipHop, based on rap music rendered primarily in Tamil (Frederick 2009). Tamil Hip-Hop was popularized by Kuala Lumpur-based rappers like Yogi B, Emcee Jesz and Dr. Burns who were part of the Malaysian Indian Hip-Hop group Natchatra. Yogi B has gone on to sing in a number of Tamil films such as Chennai 600028 (Dir. Venkat Prabhu 2007) and Kuruvi (“Courier”, Dir. Dharani 2008). In continuing the trend, Emcee Jesz has also recorded songs on the soundtracks of films like Laadam (Dir. Prabhu Solomon 2009) and Maasilamani (Dir. Manohar 2009). The seamless integration of Tamil hip-hop by Malaysian Indian artistes into the polystylism of film music reiterates the growing eclecticism that signifies contemporary Tamil cinema’s relationship with the diaspora and is symbolically inaugurated by having a song from Ninaithalaae Inikkum remixed. and the world as binary oppositions are dissolved by a syncretic sensibility.
Through attempting to find common thematic space between Ninaithaalae Inikkum and Jeans, this essay has adopted a synchronic approach to the changing cinematic portrayals of the NRI through the semiotics of the culture of consumption. An apt conclusion to this paper is to reiterate how much Tamil cinema has evolved since its engagement with the overseas communities of India’s Tamil Diaspora. In their recent films Sivaji (Dir S. Shankar 2007) and Dasavathaaram (“Ten Incarnations”, Dir. K. S. Ravikumar 2008), Kollywood legends Rajinikanth and Kamalhaasan took on roles in which the NRI is a software systems architect and a biotechnologist respectively. More importantly, in both films, the NRI returns from America to save his native India from destruction. In a sense, it would not be incorrect to say that Chandru and Deepak have internalized the collective drift in Weltanschauung from parochial sojourners to cosmopolitans at home in both India
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Alessandrini, Anthony C. 2001. “My Heart’s Indian for All That”: Bollywood Film between Home and Diaspora. Diaspora 10: 315-340. Appadurai, Arjun. 1990. Disjuncture and Difference in the Global Cultural Economy. Public Culture 2: 1-24. Dhareshwar, Vivek; Niranjana, Tejaswini. 2000. Kaadalan and the Politics of Resignification: Fashion, Violence and the Body. In Making Meaning in Indian Cinema, edited by Ravi S. Vasudevan. New Delhi: Oxford University Press. Dudrah, Rajinder Kumar. 2006. Popular Culture. 2006. In The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora, edited by Brij Lal, Peter Reeves and Rajesh Rai. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Frederick, Prince. 2009. Musically Yours. The Hindu -Online Edition of India’s National Newspaper, May 4. www.hindu. com/mp/2009/05/04/stories/2009050450390100.htm (accessed May 26, 2010). Gordon, Ian. 2001. Consumption, Culture of. In Encyclopedia of Advertising, edited by John McDonough and Karen Egolf. New York: Grolier. Hiscock, Geoff. 2008. India’s Global Wealth Club- The Stunning Rise of Its Billionaires and the Secrets of Their Success. Singapore: John Wiley & Songs (Asia) Pte. Ltd. Kudaisya, Gyanesh. 2006. Indian Leadership and the Diaspora. In The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora, edited by Brij Lal, Peter Reeves and Rajesh Rai. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Lal, Brij V. 2006. Introduction. In The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora, edited by Brij Lal, Peter Reeves and Rajesh Rai. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Lessinger, Johanna. 1999. Nonresident-Indian Investment and India’s Drive for Industrial Modernization. In Migration, Diasporas and Transnationalism, edited by Steve Vertovec and Robin Cohen. Northampton: Edward Elgar. Moorti, Sujata. 2004. Fashioning a cosmopolitan Tamil identity: game shows, commodities and cultural identity. Media, Culture and Society 6: 549-567. Narayanan, Sheela. 2007. Kollywood Rising. The New Paper On Sunday, July 15. Ravi, Srilata. 2008. Tamil identity and diasporic desire in a Kollywood comedy: Nala Damayanti (2003). South Asian Popular Culture 6: 45-56. Reeves, Peter. 2006. Cuisine. In The Encyclopedia of the Indian Diaspora, edited by Brij Lal, Peter Reeves, and Rajesh Rai. Singapore: Editions Didier Millet. Subramanian, Lakshmi; Kalanithi, P; Sadhasivam. 2007. Kollywood and Co., India Today Tamil Edition, no. 19 (December 6-12): 46-51. Toloyan, Khachig. 1996. Rethinking Diaspora(s): Stateless Power in the Transnational Moment. Diaspora 5: 3-36. Velayutham, Selvaraj. 2008. The diaspora and the global circulation of Tamil cinema. In Tamil Cinema- The cultural politics of India’s other film industry, edited by Selvaraj Velayutham. London: Routledge. Vertovec, Steven. 1997. Three Meanings of “Diaspora” Exemplified among South Asian Religions. Diaspora 6: 277-299. R.Venkataraman. Perf. Kamalhaasan, Rajinikanth, Jeyapradha, Geetha. (1979). Japanil Kalyanaraman. Dir. S.P.Muthuraman. Prod. P.A.Arts. Perf. Kamalhaasan, Radha, Satyaraj. (1985).= Ooru Vittu Ooru Vanthu. Dir. & Prod. Ganghei Amaren. Perf. Ramarajan, Gouthami. (1990). Kaadalan. Dir. S.Shankar. Prod. K.T.Kunjimon. Perf. Prabhudeva, Nagma, Raghuvaran, Girish Karnad. (1994). Jeans. Dir. S.Shankar. Prod. Ashok Amritraj. Perf. Prashanth, Aishwarya Rai, Lakshmi, Naseer, R.Radhika Sarathkumar. (1998). Time. Dir. Geetha Krishna. Perf. Prabhudeva, Simran. (1999). Nala Damayanthi. Dir. Mouli. Prod. Rajkamal Film International. Perf. Madhavan, Geethu Mohanadas, Sriman, Anuhaasan. (2003). M.Kumaran s/o Mahalakshmi. Dir. M.Raja. Prod. Mohan. Perf. Jayam Ravi, Asin Thottumkal, Prakash Raj, Nadhiya. (2004). Pudhukottaiyilirundhu Saravanan. Dir. S.S.Stanley. Prod. Indian Theatre Production. Perf. Dhansuh, Aparna Pillai, Karunas. (2004). London. Dir. Sundar C. Perf. Prashanth, Ankitha. (2005). Unakkum Enakkum. Dir. M.Raja. Prod. Jayam Company. Perf. Jayam Ravi, Trisha, Prabhu, Bhagyaraj. (2006). Kannamoochi Yenada? Dir. V.Priya. Prod. Radaan MediaworksUTV-Pyramid Saimira. Perf. Prithiviraj, Sathyaraj, Sandhya, R.Radhika Sarathkumar. (2007). Polladhavan. Dir. Vetrimaran. Prod. Kathiresan. Perf. Dhanush, Ramya. (2007). Sivaji. Dir S.Shankar. Prod. A.V.M. Productions. Perf. Rajinikanth, Shreya, Vivek, Suman. (2007). Chennai 600028. Dir. Venkat Prabhu. Prod. Capital Film Works-Tantra Films. Perf. Shiva, Jai, Nithin Sathya, Aravind Akash, Premji Amaren. (2007). Kuruvi. Dir. Dharani. Prod. Red Giant Pictures. Perf. Vijay, Trisha, Vivek, Suman. (2008). Dasavathaaram. Dir. K.S.Ravikumar. Prod. Aascar Films. Perf. Kamalhaasan, Asin Thottumkal, Mallika Sherawat. (2008). Laadam. Dir. Prabhu Solomon. Prod. Cosmos Entertainment. Perf. Charmy Kaur, Aravindhan. (2009). Maasilamani. Dir. Manohar. Prod. AGS Entertainment. Perf. Nakul, Sunaina, Pavan. (2009). Meiporul. Dir. Natty Kumar. Prod. Dreams on Frames Production. Perf. Krish Bala, Narayan, Anusha. (2009). Achchamundu! Achchamundu! Dir. & Prod. Arun Vaidyanathan. Perf. Prasanna, Sneha, John Shea. (2009).
1 I would like to thank Dr. Rajesh Rai and Associate Professor Gyanesh Kudaisya for their feedback and ideas on an earlier draft of this research paper which was submitted as part of the coursework for the South Asian studies module: “Exile, Indenture, IT: Global South Asians.” I am also thankful to Eugene Chew, Indran Paramasivam and Amitha Pagolu for their detailed and thoughtful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. The term ‘Kollywood’ is a portmanteau of the names Kodambakkam and Hollywood, just as ‘Bollywood’ is a portmanteau of the names Bombay and Hollywood. Kodambakkam is the centre of the Tamil film industry in the city of Chennai (formerly known as Madras), Tamil Nadu, India, where major film studios like A.V.M. Studios, L.V. Prasad Studios, and Vijaya Vauhini Studios can be found. 2 In using the term “Ethnoscape,” Appadurai refers to the “landscape of persons who constitute the shifting world in which we live: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles, guestworkers, and other moving groups and persons [that] constitute an essential feature of the world.” Similarly, the term “Mediascape,” refers to the “image-centered, narrativebased accounts of strips of reality, and what they offer to
Pudhiya Paravai. Dir. Dada Mirasi. Prod. Sivaji Productions. Perf. Sivaji Ganesan, Saroja Devi, Sowcar Janaki, M.R.Radha. (1964). Aayirathil Oruvan. Dir. B.R. Panthulu. Prod. Padmini Pictures. Perf. M.G.Ramachandran, Jayalalithaa, M.N.Nambiar. (1965). Sivantha Mann. Dir. C.V.Sridhar. Prod. Chitraalayaa. Perf. Sivaji Ganesan, M.N.Nambiar, Kaanchana. (1969). Ullagum Sutrum Valibhan. Dir. M.G.Ramachandran. Prod. Emgeeyar Pictures. Perf. M.G.Ramachandran, M.N.Nambiar, S.A.Ashokan, Latha, Manjula. (1973). Priya. Dir. S.P.Muthuraman. Prod. S.P.Tamilarasi. Perf. Rajinikanth, Ambareesh, Sridevi. (1978). Varuvan Vadivelan. Dir. K.Sankar. Prod. Subbu Productions. Perf. Jaiganesh, Latha. (1978). Ninaithaalae Inikkum. Dir. K.Balachander. Prod.
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those who experience and transform them is a series of elements (such as characters, plots and textual forms) out of which scripts can be formed of imagined lives, their own as well as those of others living in other places.” 3 Antakshari is a musical game played in South Asia, particularly in India and Pakistan. The idea of the game is to start singing the first two lines of an Indian film song (usually from Bollywood or Indian movies). The game can be played by two or more people and is particularly popular as a group activity during commutes, bus rides etc. The singer has to sing two complete lines and then s/he may stop at the end of those or following lines. The last Hindi (or indigenous language) letter of the last word sung is then used by the next singer to sing another song, starting with that letter. It started as a family pastime; now there are several TV shows and competitions all over India based on it. It would be of interest to the reader that other forms of cultural performances even in the Diaspora itself register this representation of the overseas Tamil woman as ‘loose’, ‘wildly out of control’ and morally corrupt. This is evident in a recent musical production by the National University of Singapore Hindu society: Yaatra 2008. One portion of the Tamil drama presents the story of an Australian Tamil girl Nacheeammal as Nancy, postured as a disloyal wife to her husband Ram and having an illicit affair with another married man Kannan. In contrast, Kannan’s wife is caricatured as a fiercely loyal and loving wife to the undeserving Kannan. In glorifying Kannan’s wife’s virtues as a native Tamil from Tamil Nadu, there seems to be condescension in the representation of the Tamil Diaspora’s women by the Diaspora’s own cultural productions. Outside the text, Rai’s privileged position as India’s cultural ambassador, as the Miss World 1994 competition winner, and now her global popularity through the widespread proliferation of Hindi films, and roles in Hollywood films like Bride and Prejudice (2004), Mistress of Spices (2005), The Last Legion (2007) and Pink Panther 2 (2009), reaffirm her hybrid identity at once as a cosmopolitan and an Indian in the globalized media market.
The Little Green Dot
Kumuthan Maderya graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2009, with a Bachelor of Arts (Honors) in History. While an undergraduate, he was a keen student of the interdisciplinary field of film and history as well as Indian film studies. His Honors Thesis entitled: “Rage Against the State: Historicizing the Angry Young Man in Tamil Cinema” has been published on the film journal, Jumpcut: A Review of Contemporary Media (2010). He presently teaches International History at Anglo-Chinese Junior College.
USP Undergraduate Journal | 30 What should the next phase of Singapore’s greening be if we consider how trees offer a means of fixing people’s memories in space?
Alexius Yeo Per Guan
As Joseph Kupfer explains, “With the loss of place, with placelessness, we are deprived of the aesthetic experiences particular places provide” (2007: 38). How can we expect Singaporeans to feel attached to the nation’s space, or even develop intimate-grounding memories in Singapore, if we create neighbourhood landscapes that remain indistinguishable from one another? Dictated by the need to create economic opportunities and implemented top-down and efficiently by the government, policies concerning spaces in Singapore have made them livable but not lovable, orderly but not memorable. For example, as urban planners cleared traditional landscapes during the 1960s to 1980s to make room for glass-covered skyscrapers that scream buzzwords like ‘modern’, ‘advanced’ and ‘cosmopolitan,’ the situated memories of Singaporeans began disappearing as well. By the 1980s, urban planners were beginning to realize that these new landscapes were making tourist experiences bland, boring and predictable. Singaporeans themselves were becoming disinterested in their own environment. Through the years, however, new trends in thought are calling for more concerted efforts to respect memories by incorporating them in the creation of meaningful and valuable places. A critical inquiry into Singapore’s architectural preservation would make a challenging research topic on its own. The focus of this paper, though, is on how Singapore’s National Parks Board (NParks) took up the same challenge posed to the field of architecture, and applied it to trees. By initiating the Heritage Trees Scheme, NParks signaled a conceptual shift away from merely valuing trees for their visual and economic gains, and progressed towards incorporating understanding about memory and identity in the art of landscaping. The scheme opens up new possibilities in the way urban planners can use trees to create meaningful landscapes that enhance the quality of living in Singapore and beyond its shores. By drawing from Pierra Nora’s conceptual understanding of memory and the formation of lieux de memoire (sites of memory), I argue that, like architecture, trees can also powerfully fix people’s memories into spaces. Through the analysis of Singapore’s Tree Planting Day Scheme, The Heritage Trees Scheme and the Plant-A-Tree Programme, this paper traces the development towards the use of trees as sites of memory. Adding a new perspective to the literature about trees, people, landscapes, and their inter-connectedness and interdependence, this paper also responds to Belinda Yuen’s call for the need to rethink how Singapore’s park landscapes can “continue to reflect the needs, loves and imaginings of its users” (Yuen 1996: 969). The hope is that this paper will debate the possibility of trees constituting personal landscapes that can assist the state’s nationbuilding efforts. In fine, this paper addresses the radical question of whether trees, with their ability
… memory is by nature multiple and yet specific; collective, plural, and yet individual. History, on the other hand, belongs to everyone and to no one, whence its claim to universal authority. (Pierre Nora 1989: 9) Trees prompt us into remembering, they are repositories of personal, social and cultural memory. (Paul Rae 2008)
friend once said that it is impossible to both forgive and forget. While forgiving is a personal choice, forgetting a painful experience may seem impossible because of the limited control we have over our memories. Thus far, the science of psychoanalysis has spearheaded the quest to understand human memory and how it shapes our lives. Jonathan K. Foster, a senior research fellow in cognitive neuroscience, conducted a simple experiment to explain why we remember some things and forget others. He asked participants to recall and draw as many features of a coin as they could. The results revealed that many people failed to recall specific engravings on the coin, but easily remembered characteristics such as colour and size. Foster explains that it is precisely because information like colour and size are critical for determining the value of the coin for its use, it is most easily remembered and recalled. From this experiment, we learn how the human brain retains and retrieves information that is most relevant, salient and meaningful to our survival (Foster 2009: 3). Furthermore, the storage and retrieval of information—our memories—help define who we are as individuals and imbue our present with meaning and purpose (Helstrup et al. 2007). Put simply, our sense of self and our memories are caught in an ongoing interrelationship of mutual creation and utilization. Throughout our lives, we learn to collect and treasure our memories because they give value to our existence by anchoring our individuality in an ever-changing world. On the scale of the nation-state, Singapore too has begun learning how to appreciate the role that memory plays in the formation of a meaningful national identity. Critics have argued that Singapore’s economically driven and repetitive approach to urban planning promotes the feeling of placelessness among the residents of Singapore (Ooi 2004, Yuen 1996).
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to crystallize memory, could be an untapped catalyst for the creation of a renewed sense of place, social cohesion and national identity in our fast-urbanizing and globalizing world. sites that are material, functional and symbolic. Nora explains that they are physical manifestations brought into existence because of the fear of losing specific memories. This attempt to use the material to function like a time capsule—to stop time and preserve memories—imposes a will to remember upon special selected sites, and distinguishes them from mere objects of memory. For example, every hill remains only part of a physical landscape that, just like any other, has the ability to induce spontaneous memory. However, when a will to remember an event or experience is imposed upon it, that hill becomes both material and functional. The hill’s presence now gives recollection direction and purpose, thereby distinguishing it from other hills that remain objects of memory. However, Nora argues that to qualify as lieux de memoire, such material and functional sites must also be symbolic. The sites must have the flexibility for “metamorphosis [that produces] an endless recycling of their meaning and an unpredictable proliferation of their ramifications” (Nora 1989: 19). Take, for instance, the World War II memorial site of Bukit Chandu, a hill in southern Singapore. Bukit Chandu was where 1,400 soldiers of a Malay regiment fought and died whilst defending against the Japanese invasion of Singapore in 1942 (National Heritage Board). On the hill now stands a memorial museum—called “Reflections at Bukit Chandu”—the primary function of which is to induce the remembering of the fallen soldiers, their experiences and their virtues. With a central reflecting pool that serves as an appeal to national memory, the compound exudes symbolic aura and “characterizes, by referring to events or experiences shared by a small minority, a larger group that may not have participated in them” (Nora 1989: 19). Although the memorial site was built with the intention to ignite a shared sense of Singapore’s past, the physical space is unable to control fully the consequences that it invokes. Being altogether material, functional and symbolic, “Reflections at Bukit Chandu” is a classic example of what Nora terms a lieu de memoire. Nora’s idea of lieux de memoire is that they are complex material manifestations, formed from a will to remember disappearing memories, which affect the social through the functional abstraction of their symbolic meanings. Defined as such, not every commemorative space or object can be considered a lieu de memoire. Hence, Nora’s conceptualization of lieux de memoire highlights the existence of unique sites that powerfully fix memories into space and, in return, enrich witnesses with a renewed vigor and meaning that can be personally subjective or shared communally, or both. Such ideas, when applied to Singapore’s greening process, provide a powerful framework to rethink the memory-fixing potential of trees in urban centers and how they can be used for nation-building as well as the creation of intimate places.
Memory, History and Lieux de Memoire
According to Pierre Nora, the reason we keep struggling to recollect, speak and write about memory is precisely “because there is so little of it left” (1989: 7). ‘True memory’ is something that is not conscious of its own self and takes refuge in “gestures and habits, in skills passed down by unspoken traditions, in the body’s inherent self-knowledge, in unstudied reflexes and ingrained memories…” (1989: 13). In other words, true memory exists and functions as a subconscious current of being that feeds on experiences and relationships, and manifests itself through the habitual speech, actions and perceptions of daily living. It comes across as a form of lived remembering with no intention to remember. However, with the rise of globalization, modernity and the development of “hopelessly forgetful modern cities [that are] propelled by change” (Nora 1989: 8), Nora claims that true memory’s existence is threatened by History. For History always attempts to mediate in, distance itself from, sieve through and claim universal authority over memories—erasing most, structuring all and elevating some memories to the privileged position of universal truth or fact. To Nora, history “is perpetually suspicious of memory, and its true mission is to suppress and destroy it” (Nora 1989: 9). Fortunately, since the development of the historiographical movement in Europe, with historians turning upon history with a critical, reflexive gaze, there has been greater awareness of history’s antithetical response to spontaneous memory. The movement manifests in a growth of historical studies, the consolidation and promotion of heritage, multiculturalism, and the appreciation of other voices and histories. There comes a time in democratic societies where its members begin to see the dangers of a single state-driven historical narrative and beginsto collect the shattered remains of disappearing memories. Nora explains that it is precisely at this crossroad of the historical and historiographical movements that societies turn to creating symbolic objects and commemorative landscapes that fix memories in space:
Lieux de memoire originate with the sense that there is no spontaneous memory… We buttress our identities upon such bastions, but if what they defended were not threatened, there would be no need to build them. Conversely, if the memories that they enclosed were to be set free they would be useless. (Nora 1989: 12) Lieux de memoire are therefore special hybrid
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The Singapore Situation of Placelessness
Due to urban development and cash crop farming, Singapore lost almost all of its original rainforest by the time it gained independence in 1965. Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew believed that if Singapore was to “achieve First World standards in a Third World region, [Singaporeans needed] to transform Singapore into a tropical garden city” (Lee 2000). Driven by this conviction, the young nation-state embarked on a state-wide and state-led project to turn Singapore green. With the initiation of Tree Planting Day on 7 November 1971 and the establishment of the government-owned National Parks Board (NParks), Singapore systematically planted as many as 10,000 trees annually (Thulaja 1998). Singapore’s greening process between the 1960s and 1980s was shaped predominantly by economic goals and technology, instead of the environmental and social goals that fuelled the greening of Britain and America (Yuen 1996: 957). The re-greening of a bare tropical island, in fact, would not have been possible without science and technology. Taking after the British legacy of “botanical imperialism” (Broswimmer 1991: 6) that drove the intercontinental transportation of plants for study and cash-crop cultivation, the Singapore state instructed the collection and propagation of fast-growing tree species from all over the world to grow an almost instantaneous green landscape in the 1960s. Lee foresaw that with the mechanical transportation of trees, the consultation of botanists, and the intensive utilization of lime and nitrogen fertilizers, Singapore’s landscape would be transformed into that of a garden city in a matter of years (Lee 1967, quoted in NParks 2009). Fuelling the greening effort was the government’s aim of branding Singapore with the garden image for the objectives of attracting foreign direct investment and giving Singaporeans a material identity in which they could take pride. Singapore’s early trees were planted for the way they softened the hard landscape and promoted a sense of economic stability and wealth. The state worked through NParks, spending up to S$80 million annually (Lim 1991) to spruce up Singapore. Though hefty, such an investment is arguably well-calculated and could account for the nation’s success in securing S$272 billion in Foreign Direct Investment (Statistics Singapore 2004) and S$12.4 billion in tourism receipts (Singapore Tourism Board 2006). Although the desire for economic development in the greening process provided the push needed to achieve fast and visible results, it also meant that the nation created landscapes that embodied Western aesthetic standards and neglected the local memories, emotional attachments and identities which the old trees here embodied. The ideology and methods behind the greening process of Singapore did not derive from a historical and cultural vacuum, but reflected a strong sense of European underpinnings. The young country’s landscape of lawns and tree-lined streets appears to copy aspects of those found in many European and American parks. Singapore’s landscape did not develop organically from the community’s culture and local gardening styles, but rather grew out from hurried top-down initiatives that appeased the western gaze of first-world investors. Further, because Singapore planners privileged economic opportunities, many older trees standing in the way of urban development—yet which were the repository of the memories of Singapore’s residences—stood no chance and had to go. A case in point is the loss of Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) mature Saga Trees (Adenanthera pavonina). Producing small red heart-shaped seeds known as 相思豆 (xiang si dou), which literally translates to “fond remembrance seed” in Mandarin, they were often used by NTU students to express romantic love. Mrs. Isabel Tang, a National University of Singapore alumnus, recalls in an interview how her friends from NTU would give their loved ones “bottles of red seeds instead of roses, because [they] were all poor then” (Tang 2009). She laments that these trees that encapsulated the courting memories of NTU students in the 1960s were felled in the name of redevelopment. In sum, Singapore’s stateled efforts to grow trees have contributed greatly to the collective economic wealth and image of the country; however, the government’s initial economically centered intentions behind the Tree Planting Scheme during the 1960s and 70s were not designed to protect mature trees and the memories of Singaporeans they held within. Examining the rhetoric surrounding Singapore’s greening efforts, one would notice that there is almost nothing said about memory. Local newspapers continue largely to judge such efforts empirically, with a focus on reporting increases in vegetation cover, tree age, number of trees and variety of species. For the first 20 years, NParks strove to increase the area covered by foliage as quickly as it was possible through standardized town plans. Yuen observes: Park construction generally proceeded without regard to the needs of local users or difference in topography. Standardization of park design evolved rapidly in this era, and efficiency became the byword. (Yuen 1996: 959 - 960) As only their visual, economical and environmental benefits were highlighted, the practice of planting emotionally meaningless trees became normalized. Much of the efforts by NParks focused on the economic value of trees, and thus lacked significantly in promoting more intimate relationships between trees, people and their shared spaces. Thus, even though Singapore is heralded as a tropical garden city
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by the international community, critical Singaporeans like Yuen still find their green landscapes “boring and unappealing [because] they do not invite creative play or provide the diversity of activities and experiences they want” (Yuen 1996: 960). She attributes the dissatisfaction to rigid replications of similar landscape models that arose from the urgent need for new livable spaces as Singapore’s population increased. Yet she did not suggest new directions towards creating places that can provide the “activities and experiences [Singaporeans] want.” Here is where I believe Nora’s work regarding memory can provide a perspective through which to explain the potential behind NParks’s new strategies, and generate new possibilities in the use of trees to create appealing landscapes. to our home” (Balakrishnan 2002). The quest for national identity helped guide NParks on its first steps to acknowledging the need for the preservation of memories. Although the project’s reach is still superficial, the sight of mature trees selected for their unique heritage instills in space and people a sense of temporal connection with the past, and helps individuals “identify with and stay rooted to the place [they] live in” (National Parks: Heritage Trees 2009). Through the Heritage Trees Scheme, NParks sent out signals that memories are valued and critical to efforts that assist trees in becoming participants in the process of nation building. Because trees have no inherent meaning without human interpretation, the state can easily impose a will to remember a specific memory associated with heritage trees, and through state rhetoric, imbue significant trees with a symbolic aura. For example, a 70-year-old rain tree of 36m in height stands in the already commemorative Fort Canning Park. The rain tree towers over the Keramat where an ex-ruler of Temasek—the name by which Singapore was once known—is said to be buried (IgoUgo 2006). Accompanied by a 14th century walking trail to the Keramat, tourists and locals alike are guided towards the 6.5m girth of the tree. There, the heritage tree becomes a site of memory that not only reminds people of Singapore’s historical roots as Temasek, it also symbolizes the royal privilege Singaporeans share with the people of the land’s past, even though Singaporeans today will never directly experience the Sultan and his Kingdom. Manifested materially, heritage trees direct remembering towards a stateacknowledged memory through the tree’s symbolic presence, thus reinforcing the feeling of being part of a national (Singaporean) community. These selected trees help fix a desired shared memory into space and give it meaning, opening up room for contemplation about being Singaporean. However, the attachment that Singapore residents have towards heritage trees and their location are often limited due to the way the state dictates the will to remember. As NParks manager of the Heritage Trees Scheme Mr. Joey Gan notes, tree nominations for the Heritage Trees Scheme sometimes come in with an individual’s personal stories about the tree, but the state retains the prerogative to sieve through these memories to select only those that are historically accurate and fitting for Singapore’s national history, and that are not socially destabilizing. As Singapore’s society becomes more vibrant and varied, the Heritage Trees Scheme becomes increasingly problematic when trying to create lieux de memoire that remain relevant to every individual’s understanding of the past and hopes for the future. On the one hand, the nation-state of Singapore fears the absence of a shared memory among its people, and therefore strives to use trees as lieux de memoire. On the other, people search for unique material objects
Singapore’s Heritage Trees Scheme and Plant-A-Tree Programme
Eventually, the initial greening effect of the city was achieved by the 1980s, and the spotlight turned on finding trees with distinct qualities (other than fast-growing and shady), such as color, scent and endemism. Species like Tabebuia Rosea, Pouteria Obovata and Cerbera Odollam began springing up across the island. Then, NParks began rethinking metaphysical issues such as identity and sense of place. Whether the effect is deliberate or unintentional, the use of different species to differentiate neighborhood spaces and identities served as a channel through which the value of memories is recognized and given room to grow. On 17 Aug 2001, the Heritage Trees Scheme was initiated in conjunction with the Heritage Trees Fund that kicked off with a contribution of S$125, 000 from the Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC). Under this scheme, the public could nominate significant mature trees for preservation, while state authorities helped install lighting conductors and interpretive signage to those which had been approved (National Parks: Heritage Trees 2009). Two movements have contributed to the initiation of Singapore’s Heritage Trees Scheme. Firstly, the greening movement initiated by Lee Kuan Yew established state participation in the systematic use of trees to combat the negative effects of urbanization. While the second and more challenging one was a nationalist movement that drove the need to preserve selected objects that had the potential to define Singapore identity. Fortunately, trees were not excluded from this basket of objects. The combination of these two movements produced a state-driven realization that the activity of tree planting can too serve the aims of nation-building. During a speech at the official launch of the Heritage Trees Scheme on 23 September 2002, Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan noted that “knowing that [some trees] will always be there and protected because we care enough to do so, provides us with a sense of security and a sense of rootedness
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that can encapsulate their unique memories to give them a sense of individuality. Amidst the tension of governance and the development of the Heritage Trees Scheme, a new community-led programme emerged. Proposed by Mrs. Mekani, the first executive director of the Singapore Environment Council (SEC), the Plant-A-Tree Programme was started with the support of NParks and the SEC (van Miriah, 2008). Sharply contrasting with the top-down approach to creating lieux de memoire through the Heritage Trees Scheme, the programme lets anyone in Singapore adopt a tree for S$200 and plant it at various public places across the island-state. Participants in this programme also receive a certificate with a picture of them planting the sapling. Although the rhetoric backing this programme includes environmental concerns, many participants are in reality planting saplings to remember events, people and even pets, according to news reports. For instance, Ms. Low Siao Rong planted a tree at Mount Faber Park to “remember her pet [a Fox Terrier that died] in a special way,” because “it was one way to remember all the good memories we have had in the last eight years” (Van Miriah 2008). Mr. Raymond Hong and Ms. Jasmine Tay planted a tree on their wedding day because they “wanted [their] wedding to be different” (Van Miriah 2008). The programme gives individuals the opportunity to create their own sites of memory, together with some assurance that the state will preserve those sites through time. The Plant-A-Tree Programme has become a channel through which individuals can impose their own will to remember onto a public object. It transforms trees that would otherwise be mere objects of memory into lieux de memoire that powerfully crystallize personal memories in space; it transfigures common public spaces into places that are unique and meaningful. More importantly, because these tree-filled landscapes involved public participation, they invite regular visits. For Walter Lim, planting a tree as a Christmas present for his son created an interesting memory that continues to live within the boy’s consciousness, drawing him back to visit the tree at least once every two months (Lim 2007). It is the involvement of the ordinary individual in the implanting of everyday memory that powerfully cultivates a deeper understanding of nature, establishes closer relationships between human and non-human agents, and creates landscapes that remain relevant. As the will to remember is not state-imposed, these sites of memory are less likely to face skepticism. The bottom-up approach used by the Plant-A-Tree Programme to create lieux de memoire comes closer to mimicking the characteristics of Nora’s concept of ‘true memory,’ whereby memory is “multiple and yet specific; collective, plural, and yet individual” (Nora 1989: 9). Thus far, Plant-A-Tree is the only programme in Singapore that provides a means by which individuals can claim responsibility over creating sites that encapsulate their personal memories. In doing so, they participate in making landscapes that embrace the fluidity and multiplicity of memory, all with minimal state rhetoric. In this paper, I explored Pierre Nora’s ideas of memory and used his concept of lieux de memoire to relook the development of tree-planting initiatives in Singapore. Singapore is beginning to recognize the value of using trees to preserve national as well as individual memories. However, the favoring of the economic value of trees and the dominance of the state through the Heritage Trees Scheme highlight the fact that there is still some way to go before memories become a key consideration of greening programmes. I suggest that it is therefore valuable that there be closer analysis of the Plant-A-Tree Programme—a grassroots initiative that is different because of the way it incorporates the individual citizen and his everyday memory into the national project of creating truly meaningful landscapes. If Singapore wishes to continue leading the field of urban landscaping, its planners have to start recognizing that the development of memory (particularly plural memory) in space is an important but neglected project in the process of nation-building and identity creation. My intent has never been to claim that memory fixation is not taking place in Singapore—in fact the reality is quite the opposite—but there needs to be better and more daring efforts to use trees in the creative process of building lieux de memoire, in order to groom Singapore into a more livable city for its residents as well as visitors beyond its territorial boundaries. Just like monuments, war memorials and libraries, trees in urban spaces are also physical structures fixed in space that have great potential to encapsulate individual as well as group memories. The role of critical urban planners today is therefore to identify changing userneeds in a community, and think of new ways to cater to them. With all the merits and potential that trees bring to urban landscapes, why then should trees be left out of this exciting post-industrial experiment?
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Balakrishnan, Vivian. 2002. Speech by the Minister of State for National Development at the official launch of Heritage Trees Scheme. Singapore: Singapore Government Press Release. Broswimmer, Franz. 1991. Botanical imperialism: The stewardship of plant genetic resource in the third world. Critical Sociology 18.1: 3 - 17. Foster, Jonathan K. 2009. Memory: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gan, Joey. 2010. Interview by the author, Singapore. 12 March. Helstrup, Tore, Rossana De Beni, Cesare Cornoldi and Asher Koriat. 2007. Memory pathways: Involuntary and voluntary processes in retrieving personal memories. In Everyday memory. edited by Svein Magnussen and Tore Helstrup. New York: Psychology Press. 291 - 315. IgoUgo. 2006. Fort Canning Park. www.igougo.com/attractionsreviews-b329903-Singapore_City-Fort_Canning_Park. html (accessed November 2, 2009). Kupfer, Joseph. 2007. “Mobility, portability and placelessness.” The Journal of Aesthetic Education 41.1: 38 - 50. Lee, Kuan Yew. 2000. From third world to first, the Singapore story: 1965-2000 Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore: Press Holdings, Times Edition. Lim, Swee Say. 2000. Speech by acting minister for the environment at the launch of Clean And Green Week. Singapore: Ministry Of Environment And Resources. http://app-stg1.env.gov.sg/press.asp?id=SAS578 (accessed 2 November 2009). Lim, Walter. 2007. Cooler insights. http://www.coolinsights. blogspot.com (accessed November 2, 2009). National Heritage Board: Reflections at Bukit Chandu. www. nhb.gov.sg/www/RBC.html (accessed on 30 October 2009) National Parks: Heritage Trees. 2009. About the scheme. www. nparks.gov.sg/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view= article&id=96&Itemid=79 (accessed 30 October 2009). Nora, Pierre. 1989. Between memory and history: les lieux de memoire. Representations, special issue: Memory and counter-memory 26: 7 - 24. NParks. 2009. Trees of our garden city: A guide to the common trees of Singapore (2nd edition). Singapore: National Parks Board. Ooi, Giok Ling. 2004. Future of space: Planning, space and the city. Singapore: Eastern University Press. Rae, Paul. 2008. quoted in Tara Tan. “Tree for two: memories of trees in Singapore.” The Straits Times, 31 July. Wild Singapore. http://wildSingaporenews.blogspot. com/2008/07/tree-for-two-memories-of-trees-in.html (accessed 30 October 2009). Singapore Tourism Board. 2006. Tourism sector performance for January to December 2006. https://app.stb.gov.sg/asp/new/ new03a.asp?id=6264 (accessed on April 14, 2007). Statistics Singapore. 2004. Foreign equity investment in Singapore. http://www.singstat.gov.sg/keystats/surveys/fei. html (accessed on April 14, 2007). Tang, Isabel. 2009. Interview by the author, Singapore. 5 November. Thulaja, Naidu Ratnala. 1998. Tree planting campaign. http:// infopedia.nl.sg /a r ticles/SIP_135_ 20 05- 02- 02.html (accessed on 9 April 2007). Van Miriah, Cara. 2008. Growing love: Some people are planting trees in parks to commemorate special occasions. The Straits Times, 23 March. Yuen, Belinda. 1996. Creating the Garden City: The Singapore experience. Urban Studies, 33.6: 955 - 970.
Varieties of Capitalism
Alexius Yeo Per Guan is a Geography and University Scholars Programme student from the graduating class of 2010. He spent two years in the National University of Singapore and two years in the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill under the Joint Degree Programme, and graduated with a Bachelors of Arts 2nd Class Honours (Upper). This is a revised version of a paper he wrote for an Independent Study Module under the supervision of Dr. Barbara Ryan.
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Varieties of Capitalism: Locating Singapore’s State-Led Model
With its emphasis on firm behaviour, the “Varieties of Capitalism’” approach seems to neglect the role of state politics with its emphasis on firm behavior. Does Singapore’s successful statedominated economic development make a convincing case for bringing ‘politics’ back into the study of polittical economy? Lim Aik
In recent decades, scholars of political economy have made use of various conceptual tools in trying to explain the similarities and differences between national political economies. Among them, the Varieties of Capitalism approach (henceforth referred to as “VoC”), made prominent by Peter Hall and David Soskice in their work Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage (2001), stands out as a robust framework that throws light on the economic success of various capitalist countries, especially those belonging to the advanced capitalist member-states of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Situating individual firms at the center of analysis, VoC examines the role of both market-based and nonmarket institutions within an economy to identify the determinants of economic efficiency. Under this analytical framework, most successful economies are categorized into one of two types of market economies – liberal market economies, which are more reliant on market-based institutions, and coordinated market economies, which depend on non-market mechanisms to coordinate strategically. This paper will argue for a need to expand the analytical scope of VoC in order to improve its explanatory capacity, especially by integrating politics into its firm-level analysis of market economies. Using the example of Singapore, the paper will explore a third dimension of categorization – state intervention – on top of the traditional liberal/coordinated binary. Such an approach will address the following three concerns which have often been raised in criticism of the VoC approach. Firstly, by placing an emphasis on the firm as its unit of analysis, VoC theorists seem to neglect the “political” in “political economy”. The VoC approach relies largely on the analysis of strategic interaction
between firms, labor and capital relations, and institutional determinants of behavior to explain capitalist market economies, leaving little room to explore the role of the state. Secondly, and possibly related to the above, is the difficulty with which VoC proponents have tried to examine the economies of countries such as France, Italy and Spain. VoC situates national economies along a spectrum ranging from more liberal forms of the market economy to coordinated models which feature non-market elements in their economy, and many countries (including Singapore) continue to resist the efforts of VoC scholars to compartmentalize them according to this logic. A last charge that has often been laid against the existing VoC body of literature is that it is imbued with a large degree of Euro-centrism, drawing primarily upon empirical examples from Continental, Central and Eastern Europe. There are relatively fewer works on non-European examples, and while this is not a problem in itself, useful insights can be drawn from the developmental trajectories of Asian economies, particularly the successful adoption of the capitalist free market in the Tiger Economies – Taiwan, Hong Kong, South Korea and Singapore. Numerous scholars have already written works on the former three economies, and this paper shall contribute to the discussion by examining the relatively neglected Singaporean capitalist economy. That being said, it is important for us not to deem the above three concerns as inherent flaws of VoC but to recognize that Hall and Soskice’s VoC framework is not an ossified structure of received wisdom – it is simply a coherent set of ideas meant to reinvigorate debate on the academic analysis of national economies. The absence of the state is more a matter of “heuristic emphasis” and not strictly an intrinsic deficiency in the framework.1 The paper will begin by briefly summarizing the fundamental ideas of VoC in order to establish a common understanding of its implications and nuances, while the second section will attempt to expand the current VoC framework to better accommodate the role of the state and state politics. Following that, we will make use of the economic structure of Singapore as a case study to test the VoC approach empirically against an Asian model of a relatively successful market economy. The last part concludes by arguing for a return of politics to VoC discourse in order to render it applicable to the stateled models of the market economy that is prevalent in Asia.
The Explanatory Framework of VoC
Of the earlier theories on advanced industrial economies, three perspectives on institutional
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variation have come to dominate the analytical study of comparative capitalism:2 firstly, the modernization approach, which explains economic capacity in terms of the institutional leverage that states hold over private firms in directing modernization efforts; followed by neo-corporatism, a framework that focuses on the “capacity of a state to negotiate durable bargains”3 with both employers and trade unions; and lastly a newer approach that Hall and Soskice term as “social systems of production,” which employes sociological ideas in assessing the behaviorial interaction between institutions and firms. The “Varieties of Capitalism” approach intends to go beyond all three in providing a new framework of ideas to make sense of institutional variations across OECD capitalist economies, and this section gives an overview of the VoC approach. VoC literature places the firm at the center of analysis, examining the strategic interaction between firms and economic institutions in order to derive insights about the nature of a particular market economy. Firms inevitably encounter coordination problems in their operation, and VoC focuses on five spheres in which firms have to deal with issues of coordination in order to operate efficiently. First of all, firms in a market economy must solve problems in the sphere of corporate governance, which refers to the method firms employ to secure capital and the resultant relationship with the institutions and investors who provide funding. The second sphere is industrial relations, where macro-level negotiations between labor organizations and employer associations are needed to coordinate wages and the provision of good working conditions. In the area of inter-firm relations, issues of technology transfer, collaborative initiatives and supplier-client relationships must be resolved between different enterprises, both within and beyond specific industries. Fourthly, both companies and workers face problems in the coordination of vocational training and education, having to decide on the allocation of resources for the skills training of the workforce. A last sphere in which firms encounter difficulties would be in the internal relationship with their employees, as the careful calibration of employee competencies and character dispositions is important in advancing a firm’s interests. of market forces, hierarchial relationships and competition. The United States, Australia, Ireland, and the United Kingdom have often been used as prime examples of LMEs which employ a marketbased approach to, inter alia, firm interaction, wage determination and corporate governance. On the other end of the spectrum, firms within coordinated market economies (CMEs) rely on nonmarket solutions to these same coordination problems. This entails a high density of strategic relationships, a large degree of collaboration (instead of competition), and regulated interaction between firms and other financial entities. The market economies of the Scandinavian social democracies, Germany and, to some extent, Japan serve to exemplify such an arrangement of economic institutions.
Institutional Complementarities & Comparative Institutional Advantage
VoC theory argues that in both CMEs and LMEs, the configuration of economic institutions confers benefits on firms that operate within each respective market economy. These benefits are engendered by the inherent congruity within each system, and are manifested in various complementary features that can be found operating within both CMEs and LMEs. Hall and Soskice term them institutional complementarities, defined as a situation between two institutions in which “the presence (or efficiency) of one increases the returns from (or efficiency of) the other.”4 For example, most firms in Germany rely on long-term bank credit for what VoC academics have termed “patient capital,” and this disposes them to favor long-term projects. Corporate planning is therefore done with a long time horizon in mind, and this fits nicely with the German labor culture which favors long tenures for workers and specialized skills training (something that would prove unfeasible in a fluid labor market where workers often job-hop). In turn, the availability of disciplined and highly-skilled workers contributes to the overall efficiency with which longer-term projects are pursued. This leads to the last concept that is crucial to VoC analysis: that of comparative institutional advantage, a term Hall and Soskice (2001) use to refer to the notion that the “institutional structure of a particular political economy provides firms with advantages for engaging in specific types of activities.”5 The patient capital, consultative and diffused corporate leadership, and longer-term outlook of CME firms (as reflected in the German example above) allow them to fare better in industries that rely on incremental innovation: industries such as mechanical engineering, and the production of consumer durables and transportation equipment.6 Conversely, labor market fluidity
Two Different Conceptions of Market Economies
With regard to solving the problems within these five spheres, the VoC approach distinguishes between two archetypal models of political economies and the institutional preferences of each. In liberal market economies (LMEs), firms depend on the unfettered logic of the free market in order to coordinate effectively, emphasizing the regulatory role of arm’slength contracts, signals sent out by the interaction
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and strong centralized corporate management of firms in LMEs are thought to give them an edge in industries that require radical innovation¸ such as telecommunications, medical engineering and biotechnology.7 The success of OECD market economies can thus be explained in terms of the institutional complementarities inherent in each system, as well as the comparative institutional advantage that can be enjoyed from specialization in the industries where local firms are deemed to have an edge. However, VoC theorists have had immense difficulty imposing this analytical framework on countries such as France, Spain and Italy, at times classifying them in a third category with indeterminate labels such as “Mediterranean”8 or “Mixed Market Economies.”9 This paper agrees with the need for a third explanatory paradigm, but argues that the category should instead focus on the role of the state in order to distill the essential institutional features present in these economies, a view that has already been raised by critics of Hall and Soskice’s model, such as Schmidt10 and Hancké.11 The next section will suggest additional reasons in support of a third category of analysis to supplement contemporary VoC discussions on the political economy – the State-dominated Market Economy (SME). in François Mitterrand’s French government in the early 1980s, which imposed state-intervention policies to increase France’s economic competitiveness. These were effected through “a massive programme of nationalization and restructuring” which sought to recreate a level of non-market coordination in corporate governance and labor relations similar to that found in Germany in modern times.16 From the above, we can get a sense of how countries such as Spain, Italy and France differ from archetypal CME and LME examples used in traditional VoC discourse. Firms in CMEs are able to utilize non-market strategic coordination to overcome the problems that they face because of preexisting business cultures and institutional linkages in the political economy which prove conducive for such modes of cooperation. LMEs, however, depend on the regulatory function played by competitive relationships, unfettered markets and an overarching framework rooted in liberal capitalism. SMEs typically lack the coordination structures that can be found in CMEs (or are unable to tap into them, for political or historical reasons) and cannot enact the legislation needed to secure the “space” so crucial to the market freedom of LMEs. In such a situation, it is therefore necessary for state agencies to step in and compensate by providing alternative institutional measures to help firms coordinate. For example, in Spain, a country whose “institutional frameworks defy easy classification,”17 state actors directly influence business-labor relations by developing a system of tripartite bargaining “to reform social policies and regulate the labor market.”18 This solution came about because the Spanish economy, lacking the strong coordination mechanisms of CMEs and rejecting the alternative of deregulation and decentralization of LMEs, needed another solution to secure cooperation. State-led negotiations and other political activity beyond the level of the plant serve to define not only the economic institutions present in the Spanish market economy, but also the manner in which these institutions change and adapt to new global realities. While the possibility of SMEs as a third category of VoC seems plausible, it is theoretically underdeveloped and not robust enough to hold its own alongside the well-elaborated discourse surrounding CMEs and LMEs. The next part of this paper will attempt to advance the “State-dominated Market Economy” idea by testing it against the empirical example of Singapore, a fast-growing “Tiger economy” of Asia that has long established itself as an authoritarian regime fixated on achieving material development. The choice of an Asian nation as the target of analysis yields various advantages. Firstly, it is in Asia “where we can find the best other examples of state capitalism”19 outside of post-Franco Spain and Mitterand’s France. Also, taking the VoC discussion out of Europe offers a
Expanding VoC – “State Market Economies” as the Third Category
The capitalist state has always had a role to play in the economic regulation of the free market, being “one element among others of coordination and one that is present everywhere – in different forms, with different functions, and to varying degrees.”12 In response to the apparent inadequacy of the VoC framework in explaining the political economies of certain countries, Vivien Schmidt proposed the notion of “[b]ringing the state back”13 into VoC literature by paying more attention to the state’s role in influencing economic behavior and shaping institutional structures. In LMEs, the state can be defined as “liberal” because it functions primarily “as an agent of market preservation” by legislating to locate decision-making capabilities in the hands of company executives and limiting the influence of organized labor,14 whereas in CMEs, the state is defined as “enabling” because it goes beyond mere arbitration and facilitates the interaction between firms and institutions within the political economy. In countries that Schmidt identifies as potential “State-influenced Market Economies,” however, the state can be found to be not only facilitating but influencing in its role, intervening regularly to enhance positive business activity and hinder economic interactions which result in negative spillover effects.15 An example of an “influencing state” can be found
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breath of fresh air, potentially revitalizing a discursive framework that has, at times, seemed ossified and trapped by its reliance on the same few European countries for empirical comparison. simply the intersection of the supply and demand of labor, but the negotiated outcome between employers and workers. In 2007, however, the total employed labor force stood at 2,670,800,23 out of which only 18.7% are union members. This low percentage of overall union density, defined as the percentage of employed union members as part of the total employed labor force,24 diminishes the influence of organized labor and is more typical of the situation in LMEs (refer to Table 1 above), where unions are generally weaker, and enjoy less support and lower membership rates. The issue of industrial relations is further complicated because the state does not merely play a facilitative role through NTUC. It dominates wage determination and adjustments to the extent that, in the words of the World Bank, qualifies it as “a branch of the ruling People’s Action Party.”25 The Singaporean solution to the problem of wage coordination can be described as a state-led tripartite arrangement (statefirms-union) with the government playing a strong role in deciding and controlling the wage negotiation process not only through NTUC but also through the National Wages Council (NWC). Set up in 1972, the NWC draws its membership from the state, organized labor and capital-owners, making annual recommendations on the extent of wage and salary adjustments which are then endorsed by the Cabinet. Ostensibly, there is a high level of coordination that might dispose one to associate Singapore with the CME end of the VoC spectrum. However, this paper will argue that state dominance, in actual fact, reflects a very limited capacity for “bottomup” coordination between firms and other economic institutions in Singapore, unlike traditional CMEs such as the Scandinavian social market economies. The Employment Act of 1968 and the Industrial Relations Act (1969) serve to curtail the ability of unions to independently organize industrial action and to bargain effectively.26 The state effectively steps in to fill this void and in doing so, imposes its agenda “top-down” under the guise of tripartite wage negotiations. Both the designation of the NTUC chief as a Ministerial-level position and the Cabinet’s endorsement of the NWC’s recommendations serve to further emphasize the fact that while industrial relations in Singapore are not independent of the state, the state cannot be said to be weak or ineffective in its coordination of wage policies. The state’s role in wage determination is further magnified if one were to consider Singapore’s threepart wage structure. Most workers in Singapore receive their wages in three forms: a basic wage, a variable bonus, and deferred wages in the form of contributions to the Central Provident Fund (CPF), Singapore’s forced savings scheme27 which serves both to accrue funds for investment in state development
Locating Singapore Within VoC
The main thrust of this paper is to locate Singapore along the CME-LME spectrum often mentioned in VoC-related literature, and if this goal proves difficult, the task will then be to explain why this is so. A preliminary glance at its economic structure makes the island-nation seemingly incompatible with both the CME and LME models of development, because the state features so heavily in several aspects of its economy. While it is only natural for the state to be present everywhere and that there is “too little analytical value-added to be derived from adding a separate variety of capitalism defined exclusively by the role of the state,”20 this paper will argue that the analysis of some Asian capitalist economies, such as Singapore’s, could force this assumption to be discarded because the state plays a much more authoritative economic role in many parts of Asia than it does in Europe. This section will outline Singapore’s economic structure and examine the behavior of firms within the framework of existing economic institutions, keeping in mind the five spheres (mentioned by Hall and Soskice), in which firms require coordination solutions. By doing so, I will look at whether it is possible to cast Singapore in the tentative mould of an SME and at the same time seek to explain its economic success using the VoC approach. In the interest of brevity, the following parts will restrict the analysis to three aspects of Singapore’s economic framework where the state seems to occupy a more salient role: industrial relations, corporate governance and vocational training.
Industrial Relations in Singapore
Singapore’s model of the market economy is heavily skewed towards developmental objectives, and anomalously features the state in a variety of economic roles that seem to escape traditional VoC analysis. In the sphere of industrial relations, the Singaporean case stands out due to the high level of integration between the state and the single largest labor organization in the country, National Trade Union Congress (NTUC). Headed by a Cabinet Minister, NTUC is affiliated with 63 member unions and 6 associations, representing the labor interests of almost 500,000 workers.21 In a country with only 68 employee-class unions,22 the NTUC is undoubtedly the most important union organization. This arrangement seems to lend itself well to centralized wage bargaining between labor and capital under the auspices of the state, a process favored in CMEs in which the equilibrium wage is not
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projects, and also to finance the healthcare and eventual retirement of Singaporean workers. Wage bargaining only affects the basic wage, but the proportion of an individual’s pay to be apportioned as CPF contributions is decided by the government through the CPF Board. At present, it stands at 20% of an employee’s total wages for any given month,28 and CPF contributions have proved to be more resistant to negotiated change than basic wages because of the dual purpose of the scheme. From this, it seems that neither the traditional industrial bargaining of a CME nor the free market wage determination of an LME captures the expansive role of the state in Singapore. committees comprising a majority of directors who are independent from the company management. This suggests a model of corporate governance akin to the German CME, where top managers “rarely have a capacity for unilateral action.”29 Further analysis, however, will reveal that Singapore’s structure of corporate governance is fundamentally unlike those of CMEs. In Germany, the Works Constitution Act of 1972 (Betriebsverfassungsgesetz)30 provides for the establishment of a works council for firms with employee strength above five, and these works councils hold substantial sway over crucial decisions affecting the company. Singapore’s Code, however, merely recommends a division of authority at the highest level without any diffusion of power to rankand-file workers. Such an asymmetrical arrangement does not facilitate coordination between labor and capital and it simply increases the firm’s management accountability to shareholders. Let us now continue with the examination of corporate governance in Singapore by looking at the means through which companies obtain capital, paying special attention to the role of the state and the government-linked companies (GLCs). Singaporean firms rely on both the equity market and bank-based lending for capital, even though most small and
The Singapore Code of Corporate Governance was adopted on 4 April 2001 to provide guidance to private firms in the area of corporate governance. For example, it outlines provisions for the clear separation of roles between the chief executive officer and the chairman of the board of directors, in addition to the empowerment of the board of directors in all matters of consequence outside of the day-to-day running of the firm (which remains the purview of the management). The Code specifically recommends that committees be formed to handle remuneration issues, nomination of top executives and auditing, with such Country Finland Sweden Norway Denmark
Trade union density, 2007 (%) Nordic CMEs 70.3 70.8 53.7 69.1 LMEs 31.7 29.4 28.0 11.6 Others 18.3 33.3 7.8 18.7
Ireland Canada United Kingdom United States Japan Italy France SINGAPORE
Table 1. Net union densities of selected OECD countries (in contrast with Singapore). Source: OECD Employment Outlook database, http://www.oecd.org/document/34/0,3343,en_2649_33927_40917154_1_1_1_1,00.html#union
(accessed 15 March 2009)
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medium enterprises and GLCs tend to turn to bank credit to obtain funding. The latter are important corporate entities charged with the development of particular aspects of Singapore’s economy (refer to Table 2 for an overview of their interests), and receive substantial amounts of preferential loans from local banks, particularly the Development Bank of Singapore (DBS) and the Post Office Savings Bank (POSB). POSB is the only bank which has its deposits guaranteed by the government, and regulations are in place to ensure that it holds a significant part of its assets in “government securities, loans to GLCs or statutory boards and deposits at DBS.”31 From the above, we can observe a close network of interaction between banks and firms, especially GLCs, which seems to hint of a corporate governance structure typical of a CME. Over the years, however, more firms have been turning to the stock exchange as a source for financing. Singaporean GLCs, for example, accounted for 27% of stock market capitalization in 2000, following years of privatization efforts.32 This could signify a shift towards a corporate governance structure more reliant on the stock market that is preferred by LMEs, but does not conclusively place Singapore on the LME end of the VoC spectrum. That being said, what is observable is a trend that has already been mentioned in a previous part: that of state direction. The role of the state, with respect to corporate governance, goes beyond mere regulation or facilitation and extends into the outright ownership of significant institutional actors and firms. As can be seen from Table 2, GLCs such as Singapore Airlines, Keppel Corporation, and Singapore Power are owned by Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government’s principal holding company, and financed by its subsidiary holdings. In fact, the dearth of private entrepreneurship in Singapore has been attributed to the strong “entrepreneurial state,”33 concentrated in the large GLC sector, which seems to crowd out the need for an enterprising private sector. This seems to defy the logic that has prevailed in most CMEs and LMEs that have been under the scrutiny of VoC scholars, because VoC theorists have not devised a framework that can accommodate such a pervasive governmental role. Skills Qualification programme, in particular, has done much to upgrade the specialized skills of workers in various industries, with penetration rates as high as 13% in the Retail sector, 16% in Tourism and even 100% in Security-related jobs.35 The situation in Singapore seems to differ from LMEs, where firms provide only general skills training for workers in view of the fluid labor market, and from CMEs, where specialized industry-specific training is often linked to long-term contracts that are meant to tie down workers to their sponsoring firms. State-subsidized/sponsored skills training and upgrading empower the workforce with specialized skills without compromising the flexibility of the labor market, and this illustrates a unique situation that is only achievable with an “influencing” state that goes beyond mere facilitation to active involvement in imposing long-term developmental objectives on the institutions of the market economy.
Complementarities and Institutional Advantage of Singapore’s State-led Model
How do the abovementioned structural features come together to produce a coherent and economically successful set of institutions? The answer could very well lie in the abnormally large extent of the state’s involvement in ordering and influencing Singapore’s political economy. The co-optation of organized labor through NTUC and the widespread adherence (of both public and private sector employers) to NWC wage guidelines36 help create a highly disciplined workforce that is malleable and compliant. CPF then mobilizes forced savings from these workers and channels funds towards economic development, mainly through investment in the GLCs, and their allocation is subject to a great degree of calculation and calibration between state apparatuses. Often, this allocation is highly responsive to the needs of capital owners and foreign investors. Lastly, government-sponsored vocational education serves to equip workers with skills thought to be relevant to the prevailing economic climate, and the malleability of the workforce ensures that the training provided remains closely aligned with statedefined developmental objectives. The result is a political economy that is distinguished by what this writer terms disciplined innovation (in contrast to the radical innovation of LMEs and incremental innovation of CMEs), a quality that provides immense economic flexibility and imbues the Singaporean economy with a protean characteristic. Singapore is able to provide the longterm stability and technical expertise needed for medium to high-tech industries like oil-refining, oil rig construction and semiconductor manufacturing, yet at the same time maintain a level of labor market fluidity and centralized decision-making conducive to industries such as advertising, hospitality, and the
Vocational Education and Training
In the area of vocational training, the Singaporean state has always taken an aggressive stance in the retraining of structurally-unemployed workers and other job-seekers. This is accomplished through agencies such as the Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the Economic Development Board (EDB), with the latter involved in conducting training courses for workers of foreign firms that have entered into joint ventures with the EDB.34 The WDA’s Workforce
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financial services. All these economic activities are infused with capital obtained from both the city-state’s exceptionally large gross national savings and foreign direct investments (FDI). Disciplined innovation thus allows Singapore to enjoy comparative institutional advantage in areas of goods and service provision that require a mixture of radical and incremental innovation, because the pervasive role of the state allows for a large degree of short to medium-term malleability in the structuring of economic institutions that is sustained by a steady flow of capital. conditions. However, there are market economies which do not have the coordination mechanisms needed to pursue the CME model, and do not possess the liberal sociopolitical conditions needed for an LME to thrive. In such countries, the state usually steps in to provide the institutional measures required for firms to cooperate and in doing so, their role often goes beyond mere facilitation to active involvement. This is undoubtedly true for a state like Singapore, which is geared towards developmental objectives under the strong directive arm of the PAP government. It is in such a country, and perhaps in East Asia, that we can find working models that fit tentatively into the mould of an SME, a market economy model where the state actively helps firms in solving problems associated with interfirm relations, corporate governance, labor relations, internal employee relations and vocational training. Singapore’s state-led solutions to the above problems can be viewed, firstly, as a product of a political trajectory which has propelled the PAP government into a preeminent status in most aspects of the nation-state’s economic existence, and enabled it to decide and implement policies with little opposition. However, the continued survival of statesponsored institutions, such as NTUC, CPF, GLCs Singapore Telecommunications Shin Corporation 55 42
Conclusion: Bringing Politics Back Into VoC
To recapitulate, VoC focuses both on the presence of institutional complementarities within a market economy and its ability to reap the benefits of comparative institutional advantage as crucial determinants of economic success. Firms in LMEs are able to do so through their use of free market mechanisms, the presence of switchable assets and a calibrated structure of institutions grounded in liberal capitalism. CMEs on the other hand draw on strategic networks and overlapping economic institutions to coordinate effectively, thus ensuring an efficient framework responsive to changes in market Telecommunications & Media MediaCorp Singapore Technologies Telemedia Transportation & Logistics PSA International 100 100
Singapore Airlines SMRT Corporation CapitaLand Keppel Corporation
54 54 40 21
Neptune Orient Lines 66 Real Estate Mapletree Investments 100 Infrastructure, Industrial & Engineering Singapore Technologies 50 Engineering Energy & Resources Senoko Power 100 Financial Services NIB Bank 63 DBS Group Holdings 28
Singapore Power Standard Chartered Bank of China
100 19 4
Table 2. Selected Major Investments of Temasek Holdings (% Core Interest as at 31/03/2008) Source: Temasek Holdings website, http://www.temasekholdings.com.sg/our_portfolio_portfolio_highlights_major_investments.htm
(accessed 28 March 2009)
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under Temasek Holdings and vocational education spearheaded by agencies like WDA and EDB, clearly points at the existence of a deeper logic that transcends historicism and path-dependent explanations of political history. It seems that the heavy involvement of the state in the market economy of the Singaporean SME engenders complementarities and benefits that sustain such a model. These complementarities manifest themselves in the near-absolute stability of the Singaporean polity (a quality that has proven irresistible to many overseas investors looking to invest in the region), a highlytrained and disciplined workforce, and a well-oiled machinery which attracts, anchors, and nurtures foreign investments through tax breaks and various state-sponsored incentives. Such conditions bestow the country with a comparative institutional advantage in industries (such as the four key manufacturing clusters – electronics, chemicals, biomedical sciences and engineering),37 that require both the long-term stability associated with CMEs and the radical creative energies that LMEs can unleash. This flexibility has allowed the Singaporean economy to progress from import substitution to export oriented industrialization (EOI) in the 1970s by keeping labor costs low38 (through a regulated wage determination process) and labor productivity high (through statesupported training programmes). In recent times, disciplined innovation has also allowed us to transit to a high-tech phase of economic development anchored in knowledge-based and high value-added industries. All in all, the relative success of the state-led capitalist economy in Singapore has made a strong case for the need to expand VoC’s scope to include the role of political power in creating and sustaining institutional coordination mechanisms. The recent credit crisis serves to illustrate the importance of state involvement in maintaining the structural integrity of the international economic framework, as more banks are nationalized and governments tighten the grip on financial regulation. In Singapore, the role of the state goes beyond propping up the financial system in times of crisis to creating conducive market conditions buttressed by a stable political environment. The city-state’s “soft authoritarianism” and collective self-discipline39 contribute to a brand of disciplined innovation that has allowed Singapore to rapidly catch up with the West in a way that unfettered liberal democracy, in Singapore’s particular historical circumstances, would not have made possible according to Ghesquiere.40 While more research is needed to further elaborate on the characteristics of an SME and its role within the VoC framework, Singapore’s relative success in implementing the market economy leads one to conclude that the state occupies a position of analytical importance that has thus far eluded mainstream VoC discourse.
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1 Bob Hancké, Martin Rhodes and Mark Thatcher, “Introduction: Beyond Varieties of Capitalism” in Beyond Varieties of Capitalism, eds. Bob Hancké, Martin Rhodes and Mark Thatcher (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 37. Peter Hall and David Soskice, “An Introduction of Varieties of Capitalism” in Varieties of Capitalism: The Foundations of Comparative Advantage, eds. Peter Hall and David Soskice (Oxford: OUP, 2001), 2. Hall and Soskice, Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage, 3. Hall and Soskice, Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage, 17. Hall and Soskice, Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage, 37. Hall and Soskice, Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage, 43-44. Hall and Soskice, Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage, 44. Hall and Soskice, Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage, 21. Oscar Molina and Martin Rhodes, “The Political Economy of Adjustment in Mixed Market Economies: A Study of Spain and Italy” in Beyond Varieties of Capitalism, eds. Oscar Molina and Martin Rhodes (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 223. Vivien Schmidt, “French capitalism transformed, yet still a third variety of capitalism”, Economy and Society 32, No.4 (2003). Hancké, Rhodes and Thatcher, Beyond Varieties of Capitalism, 15. Hancké, Rhodes and Thatcher, Beyond Varieties of Capitalism, 15. Vivien Schmidt, “Bringing the State Back into the Varieties of Capitalism and Discourse Back into the Explanation of Change” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott, Loews Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA, Aug 31, 2006). Vivien Schmidt, “Bringing the State Back into the Varieties of Capitalism and Discourse Back into the Explanation of Change” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott, Loews Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA, Aug 31, 2006). Vivien Schmidt, “Bringing the State Back into the Varieties of Capitalism and Discourse Back into the Explanation of Change” (paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Marriott, Loews Philadelphia, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Philadelphia, PA, Aug 31, 2006). Vivien Schmidt, “French capitalism transformed, yet still a third variety of capitalism”, Economy and Society 32, No.4 (2003): 535. Sebastián Royo, “Varieties of Capitalism in Spain: Business and the Politics of Coordination”, in European Journal of Industrial Relations 13, No. 1 (2007): 49. Sebastián Royo, “Varieties of Capitalism in Spain: Business and the Politics of Coordination”, in European Journal of Industrial Relations 13, No. 1 (2007): 49. Vivien Schmidt, “French capitalism transformed, yet still a third variety of capitalism”, Economy and Society 32, No.4 (2003): 528. Vivien Schmidt, “French capitalism transformed, yet still a third variety of capitalism”, Economy and Society 32, No.4 (2003): 528. NTUC Corporate Information Website, www.ntuc.org.sg/ ntucunions/default.asp (Accessed 9 March 2009). Yearbook of Statistics, Singapore, www.singstat.gov.sg/ pubn/reference/yos/statsT-labor.pdf (Accessed 9 March 2009). Yearbook of Statistics, Singapore, www.singstat.gov.sg/ pubn/reference/yos/statsT-labor.pdf (Accessed 9 March 2009). Jonas Pontusson, “Varieties of Capitalism” in Inequality and Prosperity (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2005), 15-31. Gavin Peebles and Peter Wilson, Economic Growth and Development in Singapore (Cornwall: MPG Books, 2002), 31. 26 Garry Rodan, “Singapore: Economic Diversification and Social Divisions” in The Political Economy of South-East Asia: An Introduction, eds. Garry Rodan, Kevin Hewison and Richard Robinson, (Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia, 1997), 152. 27 Gavin Peebles and Peter Wilson, The Singapore Economy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 16. 28 Central Provident Fund Contributions Table, http://mycpf. cpf.gov.sg/NR/rdonlyres/9F114FAD-9ED0-479E-BC80875DEBFA37DB/0/AnnexB.pdf (Accessed 9 March 2009). 29 Hall and Soskice, Varieties of Capitalism: The Foundations of Comparative Advantage, 24. 30 Sigurt Vitols, “Varieties of Corporate Governance: Comparing Germany and the UK” in Varieties of Capitalism: The Institutional Foundations of Comparative Advantage, eds. Peter Hall and David Soskice (Oxford: OUP, 2001), 343. 31 Peebles and Wilson, Economic Growth and Development in Singapore, 44. 32 Peebles and Wilson, Economic Growth and Development in Singapore, 45. 33 Hans Blomqvist, Swimming with Sharks: Global and Regional Dimensions of the Singapore Economy (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish, 2005), 9. 34 Peebles and Wilson, Economic Growth and Development in Singapore, 41. 35 WDA Annual Report 2007/2008, http://app2.wda.gov.sg/ web/Contents/Contents.aspx?ContId=22, 13. (Accessed 15 March 2009). 36 Blomqvist, Swimming with Sharks: Global and Regional Dimensions of the Singapore Economy, 43. 37 Ministry of Trade and Industry, Singapore, New Challenges, Fresh Goals: Towards a Dynamic Global City – Report of the Economic Review Committee (Singapore: SNP Sprint, 2003), 12. 38 Garry Rodan, “Singapore: Economic Diversification and Social Divisions” in The Political Economy of South-East Asia: An Introduction, eds. Garry Rodan, Kevin Hewison and Richard Robison, (Melbourne: Oxford University Press Australia, 1997), 152. 39 Henri Ghesquiere, Singapore’s Success: Engineering Economic Growth (Singapore: Thomson Learning, 2007), 5. 40 Ghesquiere, Singapore’s Success: Engineering Economic Growth, 5.
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13
16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25
Lim Aik graduated from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences of NUS in 2010. He majored in political science, and was enrolled in the University Scholar’s Programme. This paper is based on the “Varieties of Capitalism” theoretical framework he learned while on exchange at the University of Bristol, UK, and written for an Independent Study Module under Dr Kathleen Margaret Nicholls in NUS.
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The Political Economy Of Food: A Perspective On The Strategies Employed By Asian Countries To Enhance National Food Security
The international politics of food is akin to a game of chess with each country having unique liberties and constraints. In the face of growing food insecurity, what would help us predict how each will strategise its moves?
to reinvent the incentives and disincentives at every nexus of the global food supply chain to create supply regularity and stabilise escalating domestic food prices were keen, almost frantic. However, existing concepts, which tend to be catch-all definitions too centred either on capturing the social-security dimension at the individual level, or on concerns about global food supplies at the international market level, do not help us understand why states act the way they do. What is needed is a definition or model that assesses food security at the national level; that, in particular, identifies the rationales that undergird policy-makers’ strategic calculus and corollary policy responses. To anchor the broad dynamics of governments’ food strategies in a succinct and accessible discussion, I developed an original matrix to profile countries’ food security challenges based on their present trade statuses and supply-and-demand potentials. The matrix allows an estimation of the degree of food insecurity in a particular country and its corollary policy impetuses. I argue that within each profile, the degree of policy manoeuvres that a country has is highly dependent on the type of institutional, financial and social resources that the government possesses. In particular, the degree of affluence strongly shapes a country’s policy options given a set level of food insecurity. Having arrived at a model that captures the key determinants of food politics, I then generalise the model to the political economy of rice in Asia and account for several Asian governments’ efforts in securing self-sufficiency in affordable rice.
ood security as a concept originated somewhen between 1973 and 1974,1 as policy-makers struggled to deal with an unprecedented series of global poor grain harvest in the early 1970s.2 At the 1974 World Food Summit, food security was defined as the “availability at all times of adequate world food supplies of basic foodstuffs to sustain a steady expansion of food consumption and to offset fluctuations in production and prices.”3 In the aftermath of the global food crisis, the focus shifted to issues of famine and hunger, with food security reconceptualised in the UNFAO report of 1983 as “ensuring that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to the basic food they need.”4. The influential 1986 World Bank report Poverty and Hunger then homed public attention onto the fact that there must not only be food, but there must be “enough food for an active, healthy life at all times for all people,” thereby foregrounding the issue of protein-energy malnutrition.5 In the 1990s, food security further incorporated concerns about food safety, nutritional balance, and even socially or culturally determined food preferences.6 The growing list implies that the concept had shed its original simplicity and impetus. Food security was no longer a basic goal, but an intermediating set of actions that contributes to an active and healthy life.7 But as the focus of literature on food security veers towards social welfare, investigation into the state’s role in combating national food insecurities was neglected. This lapse in the literature is critical. In 2008, Asian governments executed a myriad of policy interventions, from introducing producer credits, consumer subsidies, and tariffs/quotas to making massive land purchases. The states’ attempts
Reconceptualising State Appraisal of Food Insecurity
Many factors affect a nation’s food security profile. Intuitively, a nation can assess its level of self-sufficiency based on the aggregate agricultural production and consumption of food. However, since aggregate supply cannot capture information about food deprivation due to structural poverty, market asymmetries and geographical specificity, states can consider if its citizens are food-secure by additionally examining whether different sections of its populace have adequate financial, physical or social means to gain access to basic commodities. Food insecurities can also occur unexpectedly when global food harvest plummets and food prices experience supplyled inflation. The situation can be aggravated when short-term vagaries prompt food-exporting countries to limit exports to the international market. Broader phenomena such as financial crises and climatic changes can also result in currency devaluation that immediately reduces citizens’ purchasing power or directly affect the viability of crop cultivation. In this paper, I shall consider only a few macrointervening variables that would contribute directly to national food security. Specifically, a country is
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thought to be food-insecure if: 1) A large percentage of its food supply is foreign imports. This denotes the country’s sensitivity to vagaries in international food markets and its susceptibility to food blackmails and extortions.8 Consider the reaction of the Philippines, the world’s biggest rice importer, during the 2008 food crisis. When Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia mooted the concept of a rice cartel, senior officials in the Philippines issued open rebuttals to the proposal, labelling it “anti-poor,” “anti-humanity” and “designed to increase hunger and poverty,” before proclaiming aspirations for selfsufficiency by 2010.9 2) Potential overall agricultural output is insufficient to cover the dietary needs of its people. Even if a country is not self-sufficient now, it might be in the future if turning to agriculture is plausible and worthwhile—hence a calculation of ‘potential’ output. Whether turning to agriculture is plausible is highly dependent on the arable land available for conversion to agriculture use and the absolute population growth per annum. This equation reflects an intuitive enough assumption that supply must equal demand for a country’s food security to remain at equilibrium. Besides the capacity to develop self-sufficiency, the state’s desire to develop land for agriculture should be considered. In the past few decades, many Asian states haved pursued export-led industrialisation for economic growth. Given land scarcity and the opportunity cost incurred by using it for either industrialisation or cultivation, such a commitment, if it assumes high priority on the national developmental agenda, can conflict with aspirations of being selfsufficient in food staples. Size of arable land available for conversion to agricultural use. The more land per citizen (or per capita), the likelier a country to be self-sufficient. -Absolute population growth in the next five to ten years. This is attained by calculating the product of the average rate of change and the country’s expected population size for five years. The greater the population boom, the likelier it is for population size to outstrip agricultural output; thus the likelier it is for the country to grow more food-insecure. -State ambition to develop land for industrial purposes. This is approximated through the rate of urbanisation. The logic is that the higher the rate of urbanisation in a country, the keener is its drive to industrialise and the less likely it is to abandon industrialisation ambitions to pursue long-term food security. We derive from the matrix a typology of four national food profiles. The most food-insecure countries are denoted as Scavengers. These are food importers that lack the means or will to develop their agriculture sector and hence would almost never be self-sufficient. They are therefore particularly sensitive and vulnerable to price shocks and inadequate supplies in the market. Devoid of internal recourses, Scavengers often have to venture into the international arena for more policy options. Their deprivation of a basic commodity like food drives their eagerness to explore or exploit any available opportunities. Next are the Reformers, also relatively foodinsecure countries that are currently importing much of their food. What differentiates them from the Scavengers is their ultimate potential to attain greater self-sufficiency by reforming their agricultural policies and embarking on more aggressive domestic food production. Successful reformers would be beneficial to the global food arena as they are able to provide for their own citizens and may in the long run ease demand in the international market, thereby freeing up more resources for other food-insecure nations. Up one notch on the food security ladder are the Modifiers. These countries are major food-producing and exporting nations now, but because they face much resource constraint and population demands in the long run, they may experience rapid deterioration in food security if/when their agricultural produce fails to provide for their own dietary needs. These net exporters’ inability to produce in excess would destabilise global food security as countries which traditionally depend on their supplies struggle to cope in their absence. More alarming would be their failure to produce adequately for domestic consumption, and their consequent competition with Scavengers and Reformers for supplies.
Food Security Matrix Part I – Assessing National Food Profile
Engaging the abovementioned list of considerations, we can construct a matrix that allows an approximation of a country’s degree of food insecurity and a sense of where it stands in the international food arena. This matrix is built based on a loose index of composite, comparative indicators that include: -Whether a country is a net food importer or exporter. The assumption is that the former is less food-secure than the latter. -
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Finally, Managers are arguably the most foodsecure nations. Not only are they net exporters, they have enormous latent capacity and can rev up their agricultural output if they choose to. Technically, they can even be depended upon to continue exporting food as they possess comparative advantage in doing so. With excess produce at their disposal, they have gained power in the management of such a basic commodity. typology of eight further food profiles that detail the tendencies of various countries in the international food market: Scavengers are divided into two groups: Traders and Dependents. Extremely food-insecure but generally wealthy, Traders would actively attempt to redeploy finances to engage in aggressive protectionist measures if they have an existing agri-sector, and/or pursue policy options in the international arena if they lack viable domestic solutions. Protectionist measures may include input subsidies and high producer pricefloors. Where international solutions are concerned, one of the most straightforward ways to compensate for their lack of arable land would be by purchasing large parcels of land overseas. Alternatively, they can also enter into bilateral food agreements with other sovereigns and pay for a regular food supply for a stipulated time period. As a corollary to their wealth, they may be significant actors on the regional or global level and may thus be able to flex their diplomatic muscles to persuade other countries to jointly create contingent mechanisms such as regional reserve centres.10 On the opposing end of fortune stand the Dependents: food-insecure countries with too little financial resources for expensive policy manoeuvres, and which are thus heavily reliant on international assistance. Their only recourse seems to be international food aid unless they choose to liberalise the market and allow private sector actors to fill in the gap. Some may also propose the creation of food banks and emergency funds. Reforms can either be a success or a dream. Similarly, Reformers can be conceived as comprising Securers and Aspirants. Both seek self-sufficiency in the long run, but the former are generally more
Part II – Wealth Effect and National Food Strategies
Having established a rudimentary model to assess a nation’s food-(in)security, I then considered the type of policies that these countries can adopt to alleviate their food conditions. The range of policy manoeuvres is highly dependent on the type of institutional, financial and social resources that each government possesses. Without a coherent and capable set of agencies or parastatals to help regulate the food market, policy interventions may not be effective. In the same vein, a country’s affluence is also a critical measure of the range of policy options available to a country at any one time. With insufficient financial resources, governments would not be entitled to policy interventions in the first place, and would have to liberalise the food market to allow private actors to fill the gap. Even if a government has some financial leverage, if faced with a populace steeped in poverty, it will not be able to continually provide food subsidies or assistance without bankrupting its national coffers. In light of the possible ramifications of a country’s economic standing, I factored in the wealth effect into the existing matrix by adding a comparative indicator: the gross domestic product per capita. From this secondary matrix, we can identify a
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hopeful due to their additional finance. Securers aim to enhance food security through improving the physical and institutional infrastructure such as irrigation and research extension systems, which have the main effects of shifting production functions. However, because such programmes require heavy investment and long gestation periods, it would therefore be too costly and tedious an exercise for less endowed Aspirants. There is a temptation for Aspirant governments to adopt shorter run policies, such as supporting product prices and subsidizing inputs, thus stimulating farm producers to increase food output along existing production functions.11 The temptation becomes stronger during periods of occasional food shortages and high prices. The variants on the international market are the Modifiers whose influence can go either way. Rich Modifiers are Straddlers who cut across different categories and pursue a mix of policy options. Lacking future productive capacity, they would, like Traders, venture out into the international arena, but also attempt to stabilise domestic supply like other net exporters would. Generally, Straddlers are more stable than Transformers. Transformers face a great strain on their resources with a burgeoning population, a high proportion of which is mired in poverty. Transformers tend to erect more protectionistic policies towards agriculture as a large swathe of the populace is engaged in agriculture and low GDP per capita means that food inflation will cause widespread hardship. To support the farmers, the state will regularly procure their produce, provide input subsidies and establish minimum output price. In times of shortages, Transformers may also impose export quotas to safeguard domestic food security. The Managers could provide solutions to the food problem in the long-run, if they choose to do so. If the countries enjoying food surplus do not have income problems, there is a high likelihood that they would become Stabilisers in the system. Stabilisers do not manipulate their comparative advantage in food production, and merely export food as a comparative advantage, thus serving as a stabilising force for global food security. They may also propose regional reserves centres like Traders do, but for a different set of considerations. They may reason that such acts of ‘altruism’ may accumulate diplomatic goodwill which may be deployable in other areas of insecurity in the long run.12 On the other hand, their counterpart, the Rentiers, may be unduly tempted by the promise of augmenting their national income by forming food oligopolies that can dictate prices to food-insecure nations. In addition, Rentier states may also attempt to impose onerous export duties on their businessmen and farmers in order to plump up its coffers. Since Rentiers are so secure and abundant in food production, such policies do not bring disproportionate harm to the government and instead promise a steady flow of revenue. At this point, it is important to establish that the policies represented in the matrix are neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive. For example, while it may appear that only food-exporting or wealthy
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states (Traders, Straddlers and Stabilisers) engage in bilateral or multilateral regimes, it does not mean that food-importing or poorer states cannot do so to secure food supplies or gain goodwill. They can technically explore these avenues too, but the assumption is that most of the time, diplomacy is only effective if it is backed with credible power which stems from military capabilities, financial prowess or critical, abundant access to vital commodities. Poorer states are often disadvantaged in multilateral regimes or bilateral agreements, and thus such a strategy might not be the most cost-effective and rational one.13 In fact, foodinsecure countries like Bangladesh have attempted to engage powerful states in multilateral conferences before, but with lacklustre results.14 I have also attempted to impute some degree of priority for the policies outlined in the matrix. Hence, a wealthy state like Malaysia, with the capability to reform its agricultural sector or go to international arena for solutions, may value being self-sufficient more than it is willing to depend on regional collaborative mechanism for food supplies. Similarly, I refrained from duplicating common policies which are present in nearly all countries. An example of this would be a policy such as food subsidy which is widely enforced for the poor in many countries. I have, however, included it for the Aspirants because Aspirant countries may tend to employ it on a wider basis as their populace is poor and the scale of operation would not be as daunting as that for Dependents. However, one may note that countries like China, Malaysia and the Philippines present borderline cases. Possibly accounting for these data is the third dimension of food security, that is a state’s ambitions to industrialise.19 Malaysia and the Philippines are Newly Industrialised Countries (NICs) which developed rapidly from agricultural to industrial economies in the 1990s, and which relatively neglected their agricultural sector. This is different from the situation in China where its leaders embarked on the industrialisation project on a slightly slower pace, gradually by regions and localities. Such a developmental model allows a country to always reserve a niche in agricultural production as there will always be a segment of its population that is engaged in agricultural activities. Armed with considerable land and a relatively stagnant population size, Malaysia and the Philippines can technically attain self-sufficiency if they seek to reform their economies. But the same cannot be said for China and the South Asian countries which face a burgeoning population that may in time exert disproportionate pressure on existing supplies.20 Assuming that the amount of arable land remains constant, a growing population base would reduce the hectares of land per capita. This causes a rapid deterioration of food security in these countries which in turn links to global food security as these large consumers may drive up the international prices of rice. This was the case in 1989, when China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines bought such large quantities of rice that they pushed up the price of Thai rice dramatically.21 Singapore and Korea are also in an extended quagmire as their lack of arable land and keen drive to industrialise will deepen their reliance on external sources of food. The most food-secure of the ten Asian countries are Thailand and Cambodia, which are net food exporters, and have the highest arable land per capita, lowest rate of urbanisation and modest population growth. Based on the various characteristics, the ten Asian countries’ national food profiles can be constructed on the nextpage (Figure A). To further intimate the exact food strategy, per capita income is factored into the analysis (Figure B).22 In this paper, the threshold for low income is arbitrarily determined at USD$10,000, so as to fit the cases into the wider public imagination with regards to these countries. For example, it is difficult to consider the borderline case of Thailand as a high income country, or Malaysia as a low income country, hence the threshold is set somewhere in between the two. This measure is not intended as absolute. After sorting the cases according to the country’s wealth
Food Security in Asia
Having derived a general model for the analysis of state power and food vulnerability, I shall apply it to the Asian rice market. The importance of rice, which is a major staple in the Asian diet,15 to government policy-makers and private sector actors is indisputable as it was the grain the availability of which inspired the most concern from governments and retailers in the 2008 food crisis.16 Understanding the politicaleconomic dynamic in the rice market is crucial to understanding Asian food security. I shall first review how the ten Asian countries fare on the four comparative indicators and fit into the typology. As discussed, a measure of food security is reliance on foreign imports. Based on the first tier of analysis, Singapore, Korea, Bangladesh, the Philippines and Malaysia are more food-insecure than the net rice exporters China, Pakistan, India, Thailand and Cambodia.17 To further differentiate them on their potential to yield sufficient agricultural output, I considered the other three indicators. The data on arable land available per capita did not contradict the earlier findings. On the whole, net exporting countries possess more arable land per capita than net importing countries.18
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effect, the new classification may be presented on the following page (Figure C). The resultant matrix is congruent with the general strategies deployed by these states in their recent history of coping with food insecurities. The next section provides an analysis of some of these cases and identifies instances where this matrix appears accurate in its predictive capability. While the discussion is centred on rice, I will discuss the wider food problems in these countries where appropriate. The core principles of the OREC were euphemistically expressed by Hun Sen as “[seeking] to contribute to ensuring food stability not just in individual countries but also to address food shortages in the region and the world.”27 Although it appears that Cambodia’s intent is to augment its role as rice-exporter and step out of the “shadow of bigger exporters on the international rice market,” a rice oligopoly could determine prices if the major rice-exporting countries collaborated.28 Then-Thai PM Samak seemed well aware of OREC’s pricefixing potential, but he wanted to use the proposal to galvanise the rural masses and dictate international rice prices. 29 If food rentiers like Thailand and Cambodia create a rice cartel, then they essentially create another line of conflict in the international food regime.30 Nevertheless, while a new rice oligopoly will introduce temporary vagaries into the system, the asymmetric power distribution extends only into the short term because, unlike oil which is highly demand-inelastic, rice is a commodity that can be easily substituted with other grains like cereal or wheat.31 Rice can also be produced domestically for countries with unutilised arable land if it is deemed that the cost of obtaining it in the international market is too high. Since rice exporters actually depend on rice-importing countries for their markets and national revenue, in the long run, such a power relationship would actually become less asymmetrical. The profiteering mentality of Rentiers is observable not only from inter-state rent-seeking. After the
The Political Economy of Rice in Asia The Rentiers Collude
Crisis seldom strikes everyone evenly, which explains the existence of war profiteers, cash-flush petro-states, and in this case, rice rentiers. As world rice prices doubled from January to March 2008, thenThai Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej opportunely resurrected the idea of creating an OPEC-style cartel for rice exporters.23 The exact origin and inspiration of the idea is unclear: some sources suggest a Vietnamese poet, while others attribute it to Cambodian PM Hun Sen.24 The denomination OREC (Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries) is essentially a project that would organise 21 rice exporting countries to create a homonymous organisation.25 The group mainly comprises Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar.26
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Second World War, the Thai government began to make its presence felt in the domestic rice trade by imposing the “rice premium” (an export duty) on rice designated for foreign shores. The benefits were tremendous – higher government revenue and lower domestic rice prices, but at the cost of depressed farmharvest prices.32 The overall effect was an income transfer from farmers to the government and to urban consumers.33 Low farm prices for paddy, coupled with an extraordinarily high price for fertiliser, left Thai farmers in a very unfavourable position relative to farmers in neighbouring countries.34 The lackadaisical attitude of the Thai government in promoting rice production stemmed from two reasons. The first is the uncertainty of the export market which made it dangerous to over-stimulate production. If the international market failed to absorb the additional output, the excess would send prices crashing in the domestic market. The second is the lack of incentive to protect a sector that is basically already self-sustaining and revenue-generating without government assistance. Despite being environed by hostile policies, Thai farmers maintained a reasonably stable level of rice exports owing to an expansion of dry-season production. Conditions also improved in the mid-1970s, as the state took measures to provide farmers more incentives: there was a reduction of the rice premium to bolster prices and efforts were taken to lower fertiliser prices. However, it is widely acknowledged that such measures were chiefly responses to concerns about issues of equity and growing peasant unrest, rather than rational attempts
at encouraging domestic production.35
Aspirant Strikes Back: The Philippines
Although Hun Sen reassured his Southeast Asian neighbours that “the formation of [OREC] is not meant to strangle the throats of countries that do not have rice,” such tack has not gone down well with major rice importers like the Philippines. Denouncing OREC as “anti-humane,” lawmakers filed a bill in May 2008 that sought to turn the Philippines into a self-sufficient rice producer by 2010—signalling to rice rentiers that it would not be easily held hostage by their collusive intent.36 At the point of drafting, the core programmes under the bill (HB 3958) were: a) direct credit for rice farmers; b) sustained subsidy for production inputs; c) development of irrigation systems and post-harvest facilities; d) strengthening the unprocessed rice procurement capability of the National Food Authority (NFA) and upgrading the distribution and marketing of rice; and e) provision for extension services. Although the proposed programme addresses a comprehensive range of concerns, the order of listing is telling. The first three programmes—supporting product prices and subsidising inputs—are shortterm policies which aim to stimulate farm producers to increase food output along existing production functions, while the latter two programmes, which deal with improving physical and institutional infrastructure such as irrigation and research
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Figure B extension systems, are long term and shift production functions.37 This emphasis is characteristic of the generally short-term outlook that has been endemic to the national agricultural policy since independence. Beginning in 1973-1974, the Philippine government supported a subsidised credit and fertiliser program Masagana 99, which combined low interest and non-collateral credit with recommended production practices. Fertilisers were heavily subsidised in those two years. Although it appeared that the irrigation development was possibly the single most important factor accounting for sustained growth in Philippine rice production through the 1970s, the government’s official position had been that the Masagana 99 program is the primary factor associated with rice self-sufficiency.38 This claim is made despite evidence that Philippine rice production continued to increase even as there was reduced coverage of the Masagana program from 1976 onwards, and when fertiliser prices were relatively high throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s. It is also useful to bear in mind that the much-lauded Masagana 99 program was in effect launched spontaneously in 1973, following two disastrous crop years in which Philippine rice production fell by nearly one-fifth.39 The insistence on the success of a short-term strategy and the tendency towards implementing crash production programs only in periods of serious shortage give an idea of the Philippine government’s policy inclination and horizon in rice production. For a relatively poor country, the Philippine government has long been consumer-biased and eager to maintain low and stable prices for urban consumers. It is therefore unlikely that the government will be able to maintain high producer prices in the long term. Such conflict of interest in policy goals, coupled with historical emphasis on short term solutions, is perhaps telling of the illusoriness of the long-cherished rice self-sufficiency goal, and indicative of the likelihood of the Philippines’ fate as a food Aspirant.
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Traders Buy Their Way Out: Korea
Unlike Reformers who can embark on large-scale agricultural projects to counter the global food price hike and the collusive logic of the Rentiers, Traders have to be more creative in carving out options beyond single-minded importation. Hitherto, their most interesting policy innovations have been a spate of massive land purchases in developing countries.40 As early as 2006, Traders and their domestic corporations have been buying the rights to millions of hectares of agricultural land.41 Of these ventures, I shall look at the most ambitious of them all, which is the series of Korean land purchases that rolled up to 2.3 million hectares of land. In May 2008, President Lee Myung-Bak declared his government’s plan to purchase land in Sudan to grow food. He also proposed that Korea seek longterm leases of 20–30 years to use farmlands in the Far East province of Russia and in Southeast Asian countries to produce rice, other grains and livestock feed for Korea’s food supply.42 At that point in time, the Korean government already owned almost 21,000 hectares of pastureland in Argentina, which it hopes to develop for livestock raising. Later in August 2008, reports said that the Korean government set up a team involving major conglomerates such as LG and Hanwa, to survey farmlands that Korea could cultivate abroad. The team surveyed Mongolia, Laos
and Cambodia.43 By year end, South Korean firm Daewoo Logistics announced plans to buy a 99-year lease on a million hectares in Madagascar which aims to grow five million tonnes of corn per annum by 2023, relying largely on South African workforce. 44 The production would be mainly earmarked for South Korea, which wants to reduce its dependence on grain imports. This venture amounted to around USD$6 billion over 25 years and is by far the largest of its kind in the world.45 While Daewoo’s corporate deal appears to be purely commercial, it nevertheless also reflects a food security imperative backed by the Korean government. Overall, such a strategy offers a quick solution by instantly increasing the supply of food to a wealthy nation. However, as the land is located in the territory of another state, this leaves the “producing state” with much political leverage. Obsolescent bargain may set in as home countries can arbitrarily increase the price of food supply to boost national revenues, subject companies to creeping expropriation, nationalise production or burden the corporation with crippling taxes. In the short run, demand might be inelastic— especially so if there is a general world food shortage. In addition, countries which are selling lands may face domestic politics that introduces a huge amount of vagaries over supplies and price stability.46 Besides the problems posed to the investing
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state, it is perhaps sobering to consider that while land purchases can potentially augment the food security of rich countries, the same deals may actually worsen that of the land-selling countries. As buyers are welcomed by governments in the developing world desperate for capital in a recession, these land deals are not a pact signed between equals. Small farmers are visibly absent from the signing of such agricultural arrangements and they may be irreparably disadvantaged if they are dispossessed of their land or if mammoth agribusinesses undercut them.47 Such plausible complications have led the UNFAO Director-General Jacques Diouf to warn of the creation of a “neo-colonial pact” where poor states produce food for the rich at the expense of their own poor people.48 While the purchase of land represents a new paradigm in Korean rice policies, in an earlier period, the country relied more on agricultural protectionism in the form of increasing production and limiting consumption to ensure self-sufficiency. To safeguard a minimum producer price for rice farmers, the government allowed retail rice prices to rise by not importing any rice during the 1970s and 80s. The government also mandated that barley and wheat be mixed with rice to conserve rice use, and prohibited processing use of rice.49 As consumers did not like the taste of Korean tongil rice, the government was forced to pay high prices to farmers (to keep them in production) and subsidise rice to consumers to increase demand. Consequently, the government budgetary deficit ballooned from its rice transaction. Protectionistic measures were only gently relaxed in the WTO Uruguay Round Agreement on Agriculture when Korea was required to implement a minimum market access of 1 to 4 percent of the total consumption of rice in the period between 1995 and 2004. Reliance on foreign aid is not something new to Bangladesh. Since independence in 1971, Bangladesh has been going to the international community for food aid. Starting with the 1974 World Food Conference, the country has made several proposals to strengthen the role of UN food organisations so that these organisations can handle both chronic under-nourishment and acute hunger in developing countries.53 One of the original proposals even pressed for a World Food Security Council with powers and authority parallel to the UN Security Council, so as to give issues of world hunger the same status and importance in world politics as issues of war and peace.54 This proposal was inundated by the rich OECD countries and the result was a new body with an unclear mandate called the World Food Council (WFC).55 Faced with little long-term, assured recourses in the international arena, Bangladesh learnt to rely on food aid from foreign donors like the US and UN World Food Program, though such reliance may prove debilitating for its national food security. Under the “Food for peace” program (PL480), the US has provided food and development assistance to Bangladesh, but contrary to the popular impression of food being freely donated, these aids are sometimes sold at competitive market prices.56 This sale is considered to be food aid because of the concessionary payment terms.57 In fact, the PL480 was passed in 1954 mainly to dispose of the surplus agricultural commodities stockpiled through price support systems. These agriculture produces procured by the state at the international level are then resold domestically and can have an adverse effect on domestic agricultural production or on the market prices of domestic agricultural goods, and consequently affect farmers’ incomes.58 Besides unfavourable food aid, Bangladesh was also pressured by foreign aid donors to liberalise its market for agricultural inputs between 1978 and 1990.59 These reforms greatly reduced the role of the country’s agricultural parastatals and the government’s impact on market prices. Consequently, no attempt has been made to support a price floor or defend a price ceiling; the private sector has taken over.60 The state has also shied away from subsidising inputs to the agricultural sector. Faced with a liberalised environment where only money translates to demand, resource-poor farmers struggle with the higher costs of production and the risk of being forced out of competition. With two-thirds of the Bangladeshi population engaged in agriculture, this could mean greater food insecurity in the long run.
Whither Besieged Dependents?: Bangladesh
The Dependents are united with the Traders in their common food insecurity but differentiated by their scarce resources. With an annual GDP per capita of USD$1,500, Bangladesh is nearly the poorest country in Asia. Due to widespread poverty, the populace was ill-disposed to cope with the 2008 food crisis; the state had to hurriedly engage in a flurry of policy intervention to target producers, consumers and traders simultaneously to stabilise the rice market.50 Such costly interventions are fiscally unsustainable in the long run, and by early 2009, officials reverted to international solutions. At a food security meeting amongst developing Muslim nations in February 2009, Bangladeshi officials mooted the idea for the creation of food banks or emergency funds to a group of developing Muslim nations.51 In March, the country also requested a USD$180 million food aid from the World Food Program.52
Transformers & the Road Ahead: India and China
As typical Transformers that produce, consume
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and export rice, both India and China view rice as an important, strategic commodity for national food security and income revenue. Consequently, both governments tend to formulate more supportive policies for agriculture and to intervene actively in the market through grain procurement, price supports and export subsidies. However, there exist some disparity owing to differences in food security and unique historical context. In light of their growing importance in the global economy and global food arena, I shall treat the cases sequentially to give a better overview. After the Great Bengal Famine of 1942 which killed over 2 million people, India’s post-independence policies have tended to prioritise livelihoods and issues of food security over trade and commerce. Generally, Indian food policies fluctuate in cycles between a focus on agricultural support policies and a focus on development, poverty alleviation policies, presenting a shifting emphasis on shorterterm solutions and longer-term ones, depending on the urgency of the agricultural situation. A policy that was implemented in 1961 and which reflected challenges of the agricultural policies in the poorer, developing countries was the Intensive Agricultural District Program (IADP). The package comprised institutional, economic and technical innovations (from giving non-collateral production credit based on individual farm plans to intense training regimes and research facilities) to be implemented in one district from each of the seven states.61 The resources poured into the seven pilot districts attracted the attention of states that had no IADP and the government was soon pressured to expand the program to another 100 districts. The newlyminted Intensive Agricultural Areas Program (IAA) was modelled on the IADP but was arguably an apologetic incarnation due to its reduced financial backing. Regrettably, it also drew experienced staff out of the original program and concomitantly weakened it.62 India’s experience with the IADPIAA is therefore demonstrative of the challenges that low-income agricultural countries face in sustaining beneficial, long-term solutions that really reform the core of agriculture operations—changes that concern the infrastructural, institutional and technological aspects of production. In 1966, dissatisfaction with the performance of IADP as well as bold assurances from agricultural leaders that the new semi-dwarf varieties of rice were capable of giving much higher yields, led to the formulation of a different strategy.63 The new strategy, embodied in the High Yielding Varieties Program (HYVP) involved deliberate concentration of seeds, fertiliser and administrative talent in areas where irrigation was of high quality. India’s experiment with the Green Revolution was a huge success. By the late 1960s, the country resolutely transited from a famine-plagued country to a net exporter of grains. As production picked up, the government used a mix of policies to ensure remunerative prices to farmers and affordable prices to consumers. It also implemented policies which fuelled exports, and maintained supplies in spite of seasonal changes and market vagaries. To gain a sense of India’s unmistakable intent to protect and stimulate the agricultural sector, one might review a few policies.64 In the 1990s, input subsidies rose to a hefty 8.5 percent of the agricultural GDP.65 Later, in the early 2000s, the government procured approximately 25 percent of the annual harvested crop to replenish its national stocks.66 On the whole, basic staple commodities like rice were also guaranteed through the Minimum Support Price (MSP)—which increased by more than 150 percent from 1994 to 2005.67 The Indian state has also subsidised rice exports aggressively at 50 percent of the procurement price to undersell Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam in low-quality long-grain markets.68 China’s rice policy deviates from the Indian case primarily because of its socialist experience from 1949 to 1979 which saw the country collectivising farmland and dictating production quotas to boost agricultural production in favour of industrial development. Also, despite lip service to “agriculture first” and to equity between rural and urban incomes, China’s economic development has demonstrated a heavy bias towards industry and urban consumers.69 To achieve its goals of modernisation, the state manipulated a two-price system which enabled it to purchase rice at prices that were far below the world market rate, and then resell it with additional subsidies to urban consumers. Pursuant to the radical departure from the traditional social system from families to communes, there was also an initial loss in producer incentives. Consequently, ideological exhortations and mass propaganda were used to replace the “invisible hand” in guiding farmers’ shovels. It was not until the late seventies that the agriculture sector reverted to one which was more incentive-driven, and it was only in the early nineties that the state abolished its decades-long grainrationing system which led to more than 90 percent of its annual agricultural produce being sold at market-determined prices. Due to space constraint and the vast literature available on agricultural policies under Mao’s leadership, I shall not document the agricultural policies during this period. Also, the policies taken during this period were rather peculiar due to the unique development of Chinese history and may not be applicable to the model espoused in this essay which has the implied assumption that countries are not autarkic. I shall thus turn our attention to the period from 1990s onwards. An important trend to note in recent years had
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been the decreasing support for the rice sector in general.70 This counterintuitive shift in the wake of global food insecurity has to be understood within the greater calculus of the government’s intent to channel rice production towards quality instead of quantity.71 Nevertheless, while rice may be anomalous to the model’s logic due to specific concerns, other grains are not exceptional to it. Since the early 1990s, China has attempted to boost farm incomes by procuring grain (such as wheat, soybeans and corn) at above-market support prices. In some years, it even maintained the prices of important commodities substantially above international levels by keeping a tight rein on imports through unannounced quotas and license requirements, maintaining government monopolies on import and export of commodities, subsidising exports, inter alia.72 Input subsidies and government support for infrastructural development were also common.73 Although paying for these new policies has imposed a substantial financial burden on the government and hindered reforms in other sectors, resulting in a net loss in social welfare, the success of such measures was tremendous. In 1997, China harvested record grain crops: wheat imports were the smallest since 1961 and rice exports were the largest in modern history.74 Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Transformers would be their potential to affect global food security in years to come. In 1798, a political economist Thomas Malthus predicted that population growth increases in geometrical proportion and eventually outpace agricultural production.75 While this has not come to pass in the many past historical junctures when population doubled itself repeatedly, such a grim vision assumes a fresh urgency as we consider how Transformers may impact on the food system in the years to come. According to the UN World Population Prospect (2006), the world population is likely to increase by 2.5 billion over the next 43 years, passing from the current 6.7 billion to 9.2 billion in 2050.76 This increase will be absorbed mostly by less developed countries such as China, India and Pakistan. By 2025, the population of India will surpass that of China and together with Pakistan, they will collectively account for more than 40 percent of the world population.77 Such demographic changes may place tremendous strain on these countries’ domestic food availability and consequently affect the supply of grains to the international market.78 In fact, due to burgeoning population, the land per capita in these three countries would have plummeted by 5% (China), 18% (Pakistan) and 14% (India) respectively by 2015.79 While the percentage fall looks the most serious in the South Asian states, the condition in China is equally, if not more, severe. Although the country is largely self-sufficient, it shares a long history of population pressure and unfavourable population-toland ratio with its East Asian neighbours, Japan and Korea, hence it differs slightly from the South Asian states which traditionally have had more additional land to be developed and depended upon for factor accumulation in agricultural expansion. Since these countries are net rice exporters at present, their increasing food insecurity may translate, firstly, into a set of self-preserving policies such as export quotas or tariffs, and secondly, an increased demand for food in the international arena i.e. competitors for existing food importers. The first set of tendencies was pronounced in the 2008 food crisis. To ensure domestic availability, India increased the minimum sales price for basmati rice exports by almost 50 percent to USD1200 per tonne and imposed an export duty of USD200 on premium basmati rice.80 China also imposed tariffs on a range of items. 81 Specifically, rice had a 5 percent export duty and flour made from a 10 percent one. Similarly, Pakistan imposed minimum export prices on four grades of rice.82 The second tendency is less overt for the moment although China’s rice imports have been trending upwards between 1969 and 2003.83 In addition to these, growing income and transition to modern urban lifestyles in these developing countries will increase demand for all foods, but demand will shift towards meat and high-value products which are grain-intensive and energy inefficient.84 In the long run, a confluence of these various factors is likely to have the effect of raising international food prices and heightening global food security, barring exceptional breakthroughs in food production.
Directions for Future Research
This paper attempts to contribute to existing literature on the politics of food by advancing a new paradigm which conceptualises state interaction in the international food arena. By means of a composite matrix that incorporates five key predictors of national food security and policy spectra, the paper captures the unique politico-economic profile of ten Asian countries in food politics, and consequently identifies key elements of their decision-making impetuses. The application of the model to the Asian rice economy, which highlights multiple instances of congruency, preliminarily demonstrates its potential to be generalised to analysis of other commodities. However, its true robustness has to be further tested, and its inadequacies compensated for, in future research. One critical shortcoming of this model is its inability to fully capture the political dimension. It frequently assumes state imperative in acting rationally and capably to address food insecurity. However, as with Bangladesh, policies of food aid and market liberalisation may be externally induced by powerful states with vested interests; the state also lacks the institutional strength to carry out reforms,
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due to centre-local divergence of interests, corruption and bureaucratic inefficiency, inter alia. The second caveat is the one-dimensionality of the model’s various indicators and the sector analysed. The model assumes, for one, that agricultural output is chiefly dependent on arable land, state ambitions, and population growth rate, but as is often the case, technological advancements and innovation in agricultural practices may prove critical – the success of the Green Revolution in many regions is, after all, undeniable.85 Also, the broad category of arable land may be further refined by factoring in variables such as rate of falling water table, leakage of soil nutrients, and global warming. There is also a problem with the definition of the wealth effect; it could be finetuned to incorporate such items as export surplus, foreign reserves and government budget, to measure more accurately the room the government has for policy manoeuvres. This presented a problem in the analyses of China and Thailand. Although China’s GDP per capita is relatively low, the country has bought over 2 million hectares of land in various locations to ensure its long-term food security like a Straddler would. Also, Thailand’s foreign reserves are extremely supple, which should give its government considerable leverage in policy-making and allow it to act as a food Stabiliser.86 Finally, the scope of my analysis is narrow. To understand the international rice market, regions outside Asia (U.S., Latin America, Africa and Europe) should be considered. Other commodities such as other grains, poultry and livestock ought to be factored in as well, perhaps as a composite index.87 Also, although the level of analysis in this paper has been pegged at the level of the state, one should recognise that food insecurity frequently discriminates against the economically disadvantaged. As Amartya Sen points out in his analyses of the political economy of hunger, overall production or availability of food may be a bad predictor of what vulnerable groups in populations can actually acquire; finer analysis might concentrate on the acquisition of food by respective households and individuals.88 With the onset of a global financial crisis that placed the world’s economy into a deep freeze, such questions about inter-state dynamics in food politics, as well as the presence of food security at different levels of a polity, assume greater urgency.
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1 There is detailed and rich information available about the origin and development of food security as a concept. For more, see Food Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), “Food Security: concepts and measurement.” In Trade Reforms and Food Security – Conceptualizing the Linkages. Rome: FAO, 2003. 25 – 33. 2 The world food crisis precipitated in early 1974. Food prices soared, world grain reserves were halved and 40 million people were estimated to be at the risk of famine in twenty-two countries stretching across Africa, Asia and Latin America. The crisis originated from a combination of causes which included issues such as a) third world countries concentrating too much on urban and industrial development and neglecting rural development, especially the subsistence farming systems which produced around half the world’s food and b) partial failure of the Green Revolution, since many of the new varieties required fertiliser and pesticide inputs which were beyond the reach of poor farmers. For more background information and explanation of the 1974 food crisis, see Paul Rogers, “Resource Issues.” In Issues in International Relations, edited by Trevor C. Salmon. UK: Routledge, 2000. 132 – 158. 3 United Nations, Report of the World Food Conference: Rome 5-16 November 1974. New York: UN, 1975. 4 Food Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Director General’s Report, World Food Security: a Reappraisal of the Concepts and Approaches. Rome: FAO, 1983. 5 Italicisation by author. World Bank, Poverty and Hunger: Issues and Options for Food Security in Developing Countries. Washington D.C.: World Bank, 1986. 6 United Nations Development Programme, Human Development Report 1994. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. 7 UNFAO, “Food Security: concepts and measurement.” 27. 8 An example would be Singapore, a country that imports more than 90 percent of its food, which wanted to diversify its sources of food imports to “minimise spikes in the prices of food import … [due to] disruption in supply from any one country.” Government of Singapore – Ministry of Finance, “Dealing with Inflation - Our strategies.” Government of Singapore – Ministry of Finance - Budget Speech 2008. www.mof.gov.sg/budget_2008/speech_toc/index.html (accessed 3 March 2009). 9 Emma-Kate Symons, “Cartel plan fuels rice fear,” The Australian, May 6, 2008. www.theaustralian.news.com.au/ story/0,25197,23650351-2703,00.html (accessed 3 March 2009); JoJo Robles, “Cartels and neighbours.” Manila Standard Today, May 6, 2008. www.manilastandardtoday. com/?page=jojoRobles_may6_2008 (accessed 3 March 2009). 10 An example of such influence would be how food-importing and land-scarce Japan has sought to increase its food security (as well as boost its national profile) by leveraging on its standing in ASEAN. In early 2000, Japan initiated the review of the ASEAN Food Security Reserve and spearheaded the adoption of the East Asia Emergency Rice Reserve. The endeavour was successful and the proposal was later endorsed by the ASEAN ministers of agriculture and forestry meeting in Yangon in 2004. The plan was subsequently included in the Strategic Plan of Action on ASEAN Cooperation in Food, Agriculture and Forestry, covering the period from 2004 to 2010. 11 Barker Randolph and Yujiro Hayami, “Price Support versus Input Subsidy for Food Self-Sufficiency in Developing Countries,” American Journal of Agricultural Economics 58 (4: 1). November 1976. 617 – 628. 12 Assuming that diplomatic measures are only effective if backed with credible power e.g. military, financial or access to desired commodity, this strategy would not be available to less powerful groups such as Dependents and Aspirants, who have quite little to offer. Modifiers may want to achieve goodwill through this method since they are net exporters, but this might be less feasible because they would be less able to donate their food supplies to such reserves if they perceive that food security on the domestic front is less than certain. As for Rentiers who are mired in general poverty, they would most likely prefer to exchange food for money than for diplomatic credits. 13 As evidence of the point about financial prowess, we can turn our attention to international trade regimes which are systematically created in bias of the developed world. A recent example of such leaning being the WTO Doha trade talks which are supposed to benefit the developing world and their disadvantaged agricultural sector. The talk has come to a standstill because the developed world refuses to budge on their protectionistic measures. Despite the sheer number of developing states being represented, multilateral trade regimes obviously run on considerations beyond democratic principles; financial prowess seem to be a fairly strong determinant. 14 Please refer to discussion in the chapter titled “The Political Economy of Rice in Asia,” sub-section titled “Whiter Besieged Dependents?” 15 International Rice Research Institute, “Rough rice consumption, by country and geographical region – USDA,” Rice Policy –IRRI (2007). beta.irri.org/solutions/index. php?option=com_content&task=view&id=250 (accessed 3 March 2009). 16 Food Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), “Policy measures taken by governments to reduce the impact of soaring prices - as of 15 December 2008.” FAO Global Information and Early Warning System, 2008. www.fao.org/giews/english/policy/2.asp#THA (accessed 3 March 2009). 17 For table titled “Role in International Rice Market,” see International Rice Research Institute, “Rough rice production, by country and geographical region – USDA.” Rice Policy –IRRI, 2007. beta.irri.org/solutions/index. php?option=com_content&task=view&id=250 (accessed 3 March 2009). 18 For table titled “Arable Land Per Capita”, see Nation Master, “Agriculture Statistics > Arable land > hectares (per capita) (most recent) by country.” Nation Master, 2005. www. nationmaster.com/graph/agr_ara_lan_hec_percap-arableland-hectares-per-capita (accessed 3 March 2009). 19 For table titled “State Ambition to Industrialise,” see United Nations Secretariat: Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Population Division, “World Urbanisation Prospects – The 2001 Revision – Data Tables and Highlights.” United Nations Secretariat, 2001. www.un.org/esa/population/ publications/wup2001/wup2001dh.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009). 20 For table titled “Absolute Population Growth Volume,” see United Nations Secretariat: Department of Economic and Social Affairs: Population Division, “World Population Prospects - The 2006 Revision – Highlights.” UN Social and Economic Affairs, 2006. www.un.org/esa/population/ publications/wpp2006/WPP2006_Highlights_rev.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009). 21 Julian Roche, The International Rice Trade. Cambridge: Woodhead Publishing, 1992. 22 For table titled “Countries GDP per Capita,” see Central Intelligent Agency, “Rank Order – GDP – per capita (PPP).” CIA - The World Factbook, 2009. https:// www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/ rankorder/2004rank.html (accessed 3 March 2009). 23 Patricio Mendez, “InterRice – Monthly report of the world market of rice,” Centre de Cooperation Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Developpement – CIRAD, May 2008. beta.irri.org/solutions/images/publications/ papers/InterRice-CIRAD.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009) and International Herald Tribune, “Thailand floats idea of OPEC-style rice cartel; Philippines moves to ease shortages,” International Herald Tribune. May 2, 2008. www.iht.com/ articles/ap/2008/05/02/news/Asia-Rice.php/trackback/ (accessed 3 March 2009). 24 Patricio Mendez, “InterRice – Monthly report of the world market of rice,” Centre de Cooperation Internationale en Recherche Agronomique pour le Developpement – CIRAD, May 2008. beta.irri.org/solutions/images/publications/ papers/InterRice-CIRAD.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009) and International Herald Tribune, “Thailand floats idea of OPEC-style rice cartel; Philippines moves to ease shortages,” International Herald Tribune. May 2, 2008. www.iht.com/ articles/ap/2008/05/02/news/Asia-Rice.php/trackback/ (accessed 3 March 2009). 25 Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries, “About OREC – What is OREC?,” OREC International.org, 2008. www.
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orecinternational.org/ (accessed 3 March 2009). 26 Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries, “About OREC – What is OREC?,” OREC International.org, 2008. www. orecinternational.org/ (accessed 3 March 2009). 27 Ros Dina and Laurent Le, “Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries: why Cambodia wants to give it a go,” Ka-set, May 13, 2008. cambodia.ka-set.info/economics/cambodia-newseconomy-orec-rice-organisation080513.html (accessed 3 March 2009). 28 Ros Dina and Laurent Le, “Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries: why Cambodia wants to give it a go,” Ka-set, May 13, 2008. cambodia.ka-set.info/economics/cambodia-newseconomy-orec-rice-organisation080513.html (accessed 3 March 2009). 29 Ros Dina and Laurent Le, “Organisation of Rice Exporting Countries: why Cambodia wants to give it a go,” Ka-set, May 13, 2008. cambodia.ka-set.info/economics/cambodia-newseconomy-orec-rice-organisation080513.html (accessed 3 March 2009). 30 From the 1980s, two lines of conflict are basic to the present food regime: the first divides major exporting countries (the U.S., Canada, and Australia) and the importing developing countries. In this arena, the distribution of power between the two groups is highly asymmetric: the developing countries are much more dependent on food supplies from the exporting countries than the latter are on the markets of the former. The second divides exporting countries and the industrialised importing countries (Western Europe, Japan, and the USSR). The power relationship between these two groups is fairly symmetric, since these markets are of great importance to the exporters. In this case, the power structure is not constantly in favour of either party. The market situation from one harvest year to another may tip the balance in either direction, with surplus favouring importers and scarcity the exporters. See Helge Ole Bergesen, “A New Food Regime: Necessary but Impossible,” International Organisation 34 (2) (Spring 1980): 285 – 302. 31 This had been done most remarkably in Taiwan where wheat aid credits under the US food aid PL480 programme enabled the Chiang Kai Shek government to export the nation’s staple rice while exhorting the population to embrace a new diet by slogans such as “eating wheat is patriotic.” See Frances M. Lappe, Joseph Collins, and David Kinley, “Questions: Don’t U.S. food aid programs channel American abundance to hungry people around the world?” in The Paradox of Plenty – Hunger in a Bountiful World, edited by Douglas H.Boucher. California: Food First Books, 1999. 179 – 188. 32 Randolph Barker, Robert W. Herdt and Beth Rose, “National Rice Program – Case Studies for Selected Countries,” in The rice economy of Asia. Philippines: Institute Rice Research Institute, 1985. 242 – 252. 33 This policy was in effect until 1985 when the government finally caved under political pressure. Pasuk Phongpaichit and Christopher John Baker, Thailand, Economy and Politics. Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1985. 34 Phongpaichit and Baker, Thailand, Economy and Politics. 35 Phongpaichit and Baker, Thailand, Economy and Politics. 36 Pinoy Press, “Bill to Make Philippines Self-Reliant, Self Sufficient,” Pinoy Press, May 5, 2008, www.pinoypress. net/2008/05/05/bill-to-make-philippines-self-reliant-selfsufficient-on-rice-filed (accessed 3 March 2009). 37 The general analysis of which policies are considered short/long-term and their degree of effectiveness is taken from discussions by two agricultural economists at the International Rice Research Institute. For more, see Barker and Hayami, 617 – 628. 38 Barker et al., The rice economy of Asia, 253 – 256. 39 Barker et al., The rice economy of Asia, 253 – 256. 40 Another attempt at deploying national coffers to secure food security is manifest in a commercial project between Singapore Food Industries (SFI) and the Jilin city government, which saw the island state’s intent to create an integrated food zone which ensures long-term food supply. However, as this food zone is aimed at supplying Singapore’s pork demand and not rice, I shall not discuss it here. For more, see Lee U-Wen, “Singapore to develop ‘food zone’ in Jilin, China – SFI project will breed pigs, process and export pork.” The Business Times, October 24, 2008. 41 Due to space constraints, I limited my scope to ten countries in Asia. however, there are really interesting case studies of Traders in the Middle East such as United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait which have all embarked aggressively on this overseas land purchasal scheme. For more, see GRAIN, “Seized! GRAIN Briefing Annex – The 2008 land grabbers for food and financial security – Food Security Agenda.” GRAIN Briefing. October, 2008. www. grain.org/briefings_files/landgrab-2008-en-annex.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009). “Seized! GRAIN Briefing Annex – The 2008 land grabbers for food and financial security – Food Security Agenda.” GRAIN Briefing. October, 2008. www.grain.org/briefings_ files/landgrab-2008-en-annex.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009). “Seized! GRAIN Briefing Annex – The 2008 land grabbers for food and financial security – Food Security Agenda.” GRAIN Briefing. October, 2008. www.grain.org/briefings_ files/landgrab-2008-en-annex.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009). Julian Borger, “Rich countries launch great land grab to safeguard food supply.” Guardian, November 22, 2008. www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/sep/04/ uselections2008.biofuels (accessed 3 March 2009). Billy Head, “Deal brings many jobs, but at what price?” Guardian, November 22, 2008. http://www.guardian. co.uk/environment/2008/nov/22/food-biofuels-madagascar (accessed 3 March 2009). For example, currently many countries are buying up land in Ukraine but the political structure of the Ukrainian government is far from stable as three factions are still vying to unite the nation under their own vision. Political vagaries might affect the business environment and consequently impact decisions made to parcel up the country’s land for sale to outsiders. Borger, “Rich countries launch great land grab to safeguard food supply.” Adam Schreck, “Booming Gulf looks overseas for agriculture needs.” Newsweek, December 5, 2008. United States Department of Agriculture, “South Korea: Policy.” United States Department of Agriculture – Economic Research Service, August 1, 2008. www.ers. usda.gov/briefing/southkorea/policy.htm (accessed 3 March 2009). Food Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), “Policy measures taken by governments to reduce the impact of soaring prices - as of 15 December 2008.” FAO Global Information and Early Warning System, 2008. Associated Press, “Developing Muslim nations hatch food security plan.” Associated Press, February 26, 2009. malaysia.news.yahoo.com/ap/20090226/tap-as-malaysiafood-security-plan-b3c65ae.html (accessed 3 March2009). The WFP is Bangladesh’s largest provider of food assistance and has provided almost 15 million tons of food to Bangladesh over the last 34 years. People’s Daily, “WFP to provide $180 mln food aid for Bangladesh’s ultra-poor.” People’s Daily Online, March 13, 2009. english.peopledaily. com.cn/90001/90777/90856/6613796.html (accessed 3 March 2009). Helge Ole Bergesen, “A New Food Regime: Necessary but Impossible,” International Organisation 34 (2) (Spring 1980): 289. The World Food Problem, proposals for national and international action. UN World Food Conference, E/ CONF. 65/4, 236. Cited in Helge Ole Bergesen, “A New Food Regime: Necessary but Impossible,” International Organisation 34 (2) (Spring 1980): 289. After the first two sessions (1975 and 1976) it became evident that the Council was to become nothing but another forum for general and largely non-committal discussion and review, not principally different from the FAO Conference in terms of agenda and international policy-making ability. This role, which is a world apart from that played by any World Food Security Council, was unilaterally imposed on the WFC by the Western countries, headed by the United States, amidst desperate verbal protests from the developing countries during the second session of the Council in 1976. See Helge Ole Bergesen, “A New Food Regime: Necessary but Impossible,” International Organisation 34 (2) (Spring 1980): 289. Lappe et al., “Questions: Don’t U.S. food aid programs channel American abundance to hungry people around the world?” in The Paradox of Plenty – Hunger in a Bountiful World, 179-188. Any food purchased under PL480 Title may have payment deferred up to five years. After this period, payment is
47 48 49
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made in “reasonable annual amounts” over a period of up to 30 years. Katherine Theyson, “The Effects of Food Aid on Donor and Recipient Countries.” University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill International Trade and Development Workshop Series, April 13, 2004. www.unc. edu/depts/econ/seminars/theyson.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009). The decline in prices could occur for many reasons. Public or private sector food aid sales cause local market prices to fall below optimal levels; the availability of food aid allows the Government procurement agency to pay ‘low’ prices to farmers; the availability of food aid allows the Government procurement agency to buy less, which in turn leads to a price fall; food aid causes a national policy disincentive, allowing government to neglect agriculture and/or food security. For more, see Simon Maxwell, “The Disincentive Effect of Food Aid: A Pragmatic Approach.” In Food Aid Reconsidered: Assessing the Impact on Third World Countries, edited by Clay and Stokke. London: Frank Cass, 1991. 66 – 90. “Food Security: concepts and measurement.” P. Dorosh, ‘Trade Liberalisation and National Food Security: Rice Trade between Bangladesh and India,’ World Development 29(4) (2001); and see F. Goletti, “The changing public role in a rice economy moving toward selfsufficiency: The case of Bangladesh,” International Food Policy Research Institute, Research Report 98, 1994. Training regimes include field demonstrations contrasting farmers’ methods with packages of improved practices – treated seeds, fertiliser, weeding and pesticides. Research efforts were also intense. Soil testing laboratories were set up in the original seven IADP districts and farmer-participants were to apply fertiliser on the basis of soil tests. In a number of the districts, engineering workshops were established to demonstrate, modify and test implements thought to be of use to farmers. Plans for improving the water management of the irrigated districts were developed jointly with district agricultural and irrigation specialists. Barker et al., The rice economy of Asia, 242 - 252. Barker et al., The rice economy of Asia, 242 - 252. Barker et al., The rice economy of Asia, 242 - 252. The wisdom of the ensuing set of policies ought to be further advised because programmes such as the state procurement policy and targeted public distribution system (TPDS) mechanism suffer from logistical problems which result in perishing stockpiles and prohibitively high budgetary pressure. For an overview of rice sector reform options, see Shikha Jha P.V. Srinivasan and Maurice Landes, “Wheat and Rice Sector Reform Options.” In Indian Wheat and Rice Sector Policies and the Implications of Reform, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Report ERR-41, May 2007. 17 – 25. Shikha Jha, P.V. Srinivasan, and Maurice Landes. “Indian Wheat and Rice Sector Policies and the Implications of Reform” Economic Research Service, May 2007. www.ers.usda.gov/ Publications/ERR41/ (accessed 3 March 2009). Kathleen Mullen, David Orden and Ashok Gulati, “Agricultural Policies in India: Producer Support Estimates 1985-2002.”International Food Policy Research Institute, Market, Trade and Institutions Division, Discussion Paper 82. February, 2005. Eric. J Wailes, “Rice: Global Trade, Protectionistic Policies, and the Impact of Trade Liberalisation.” in Global Agricultural Trade and Developing Countries. edited by M. Ataman Aksoy and John Christopher Beghin, (New York: World Bank Publication, 2005), 177 – 194. 180. India Ministry of Finance, “Minimum Support Prices,” Economic Survey 2005-2006. indiabudget.nic.in/es200506/chapt2006/chap514.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009). India Ministry of Finance, “Minimum Support Prices,” Economic Survey 2005-2006. indiabudget.nic.in/es200506/chapt2006/chap514.pdf (accessed 3 March 2009). “National Rice Program – Case Studies for Selected Countries,” in The rice economy of Asia, 242 – 252. In some coastal provinces, the government has since eliminated its procurement policy entirely, leaving producers to sell their rice in the open market. See Wade. J and J. Junyang, “China Grain and Feed Annual 2003.” U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service GAIN Report 3010 (2003). The government cancelled its rice procurement policy for early indica rice in 2000 because most consumers did not like the poorer taste of it. See Li Ninghui, “The rice economy and rice policy in China.” In Rice is life: Scientific perspectives for the 21st century, edited by Toriyama K., Heong K.L., Hardy B. Philippines: International Rice Research Institute, 2004. See also Cheng Fang et al, 31 – 33. Cheng Fang, Francis Tuan, and Funing Zhong, “How Might China Protect Its Agricultural Sector?” in China’s Food and Agriculture: Issues for the 21st Century. Edited by Fred Gale, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Market and Trade Economics Division, Economic Research Service, Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 775 (2002): 31 – 33. Fang et al., “How Might China Protect Its Agricultural Sector?” in China’s Food and Agriculture: Issues for the 21st Century. Edited by Fred Gale, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Market and Trade Economics Division, Economic Research Service, Agriculture Information Bulletin No. 775 (2002): 31 – 33. Fan Shenggen and Marc J. Cohen, “Critical Choices for China’s Agricultural Policy.” International Food Policy Research Institute, 2020 Brief 60 (1999). www.ifpri. org/2020/briefs/number60.htm (accessed 3 March 2009). Thomas Robert Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population New York: E.P. Dutton, 1798. “Executive Summary,” World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision – Highlights, vii. “Executive Summary,” World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision – Highlights, 2. For more on the consequences of continuing population growth for the world’s resource systems and for national and global food security, see Leisinger, Klaus M., Karin Schmitt, Rajul Pandya-Lorch, Six billion and counting. Philippines: International Food Policy Research Institute, 2002. Self-calculated from multiple sources: World Population Prospects: The 2006 Revision – Highlights & “Agriculture Statistics > Arable land > hectares (per capita) (most recent) by country.” It also placed an export ban on all non-basmati rice exports from April to September. Specifically, the measures are as follows: Export duties introduced include 20 percent on wheat, buckwheat, barley and oats; 5 percent on rice, maize, sorghum, millet and soybeans; 25 percent on wheat flour and starch; 10 percent on flours of maize, rice and soybeans. The details are as follows: Super basmati rice: USD 1 500 per tonne (fob); basmati: USD 1,300 per tonne; broken white rice (IRRI-6): USD 750 per tonne; and long-grain rice (IRRI-9): USD 1,000 per tonne. Production, Supply, and Distribution Online - United States Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service http://www.fas.usda.gov/psdonline/psdHome.aspx (accessed 3 March 2009). In China, the per capita meat and egg consumption by urban residents (not including away-from-home meat consumption) increased an average of 1.5 percent annually from 1985 to 1999. Fred Gale, “Summary.” In China’s Food and Agriculture: Issues for the 21st Century, edited by Gale, iii-v, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Market and Trade Economic Research Service - Economics Division, Agriculture Information Bulletin 775. An example of this would be India. In 1961, the country was on the brink of a mass famine. Pressed by circumstances, India adopted new varieties of seeds. One of the seed variety adopted was the IR8 – a rice semi-dwarf variety developed by the International Rice Research Institute which could produce more grains of rice per plant when grown properly with fertiliser and irrigation. In 1968, Indian agronomist S.K. De Datta published his findings showing that IR8 rice yielded about 5 tonnes per hectare with no fertiliser and almost 10 tonnes per hectare under optimal conditions. This was 10 times the yield of traditional rice. IR8 was a success throughout Asia and dubbed the “Miracle Rice.” In the 1960s, rice yields in India were about two tonnes per hectare. By the mid-1990s they had risen to six tonnes per hectare. Impressively, India transited to become one of the world’s most successful rice producers and is now a major rice exporter, shipping nearly 4.5 million tonnes in 2006. Famine in India, previously accepted as inevitable, has not returned since the introduction of Green Revolution agriculture. See Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopaedia. “Green Revolution.” en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_revolution (accessed 14 March 2009).
75 76 77 78
62 63 64
67 68 69 70
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86 In fact, at the 14th ASEAN Summit, Thailand proposed to set up a regional rice reserve in the kingdom to ensure regional food security. Under the proposal, the 10 ASEAN states plus their three East Asian partners – China, Japan and South Korea – would stockpile 350,000 tonnes of rice in Thailand to serve as an emergency stockpile for unexpected events. This is more congruent with food Stabilisers’ behaviour and probably demonstrates how food policies may change with different political administrations. Brunei Times, “Rice Reserves Mooted.” The Brunei Times, January 30, 2009. www.bt.com.bn/en/asia_news/2009/01/30/rice_ reserve_mooted (accessed 3 March 2009). 87 One can perhaps assign weightage to the importance of various commodities consumed in a country, obtain the net import/export status and develop an index to formulate the overall reliance of foreign imports in a country. 88 Amartya Kumar Sen, Poverty and Famines: An Essay on Entitlement and Deprivation. UK: Oxford University Press, 1983.
Tan Wen Qi is fifth-year student majoring in Political Science, Faculty of Arts and Social Science. Under the Masters of Science in Management programme in NUS School of Business, she is currently pursuing her second degree in management studies. She is also enrolled in the University Scholars Programme. This article is a revised version of a paper that she had written for her Honours Thesis with Dr Lin Kun-Chin.
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Counterterrorism via Community Engagement Programmes: The Long and Short of It
While counterterrorism measures have almost always been discussed along lines of “hard” military power, of late governments have been implementing “soft”, community-based approaches with relative success. Do these bold projects with long-term objects address short-term problems?
Seah Ru Han
the UK and prospered in its liberal environment. Hence, institutional oversight in the crafting of CE programmes can lead to potentially-disastrous omissions in homeland security by failing to stop the recruitment of more terrorists within their national soil. CE programmes’ inability to deliver a proper antiterror response is further compounded when one adopts a “levels of analysis” lens. Under the “levels of analysis” method of study, a problem is inspected from three perspectives: the international level, the community level and the individual level. Whilst CE programmes are primarily a second tier strategy, it does not operate independently of the other tiers. This is where problems arise that can reduce the effectiveness of CE programmes. For one, decisions made in foreign policy-making can result in unintended illeffects on community engagement efforts. On one hand, the government extends a velvet hand to its Muslim citizens and promises understanding and tolerance for the ummah (community); on the other, the UK’s alliance with the United States (US) in military campaigns against Middle Eastern countries with a large Muslim population projects the image of an iron-fisted and intolerant warmonger. Such perceptions, even if untrue, were fuelled by media reports of soldiers’ brutality on the local Muslim population. This has developed an enduring negative typecast of the British government. For another, there are insufficient responses to the rising trend of self-radicalization within CE programmes. As these programmes are carried out by groups that operate on existing community platforms, there is a high propensity to leave out individuals who are on the periphery of society. These groups who live at the fringes of the community are the groups at risk of lapsing into extremism. These factors have made the Muslim minorities more vulnerable and receptive to extremist ideologies that are able to play upon their insecurities, thus perpetuating the terrorist threat. In this essay, I argue that CE programmes in Britain and Singapore are unable to avert the threat of terrorism as they have neglected counterterrorism in the short run in their attempts to prevent radicalization in the long run. This is compounded by two further issues. For one, while CE programmes promote integration within the community, this is not reciprocated by foreign policies that hint intolerance. Furthermore, such programmes do not tackle self-radicalization effectively so far. As a result, CE programmes risk becoming an over-rated panacea to terrorism unless the above-mentioned issues are rectified.
Counterterrorism via Community Engagement Programmes: The Long and Short of It
he September 11th World Trade Centre attacks marked a new phase in counterterrorism studies. As the War on Terror falters on in Afghanistan and Iraq, the threat of radical Islamic terrorism remains. Such are the dire circumstances that have led to policy innovations. In recent years, some countries have seen success through newer and “softer” counterterrorism methods, as opposed to pre-emptive invasions. Since the implementation of community engagement (CE) programmes1 in 2006, both Singapore and the United Kingdom (UK) have not had any major terrorist attacks on their national soil.2 By focusing on establishing closer ties across different groups within communities, CE programmes challenge radical ideologies and address the grievances of its members to eliminate the recruitment of homegrown terrorists. The successes that CE programmes have brought about have inspired other countries to do the same.3 Unfortunately, it takes time and trust to create a harmonious society. While there has been a substantial increase in grassroots activities under such programmes, fostering bonds in the long run alone does not help to solve the causes of extremism in the immediate term. First, despite the introduction of CE programmes, Muslim minorities continued to be under-represented. Second, programmes to improve the lives of these groups have backfired and resulted in further segregation. Third, despite the UK’s supposed tough stance against radicals, extremists have continued to implant themselves in
CE Programmes in Singapore and the UK
CE programmes were implemented when authorities realised that terrorism did not always
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come from abroad. The UK experienced its baptism by fire with the London bombings on 7th July 2005.4 However, it was the academic world that first recognized that a broader strategy was needed. By as early as 2003, scholars like Rohan Gunaratna and Kumar Ramakrishna had pointed out that military invasions are ineffective against home-grown terrorists as they do not address terrorism as a local issue.5 With the failure of hard power measures to avert terrorism and the discovery of home-grown terrorists, the governments of Singapore and the UK began to develop creative, “soft power” counter-terrorism strategies. In Singapore, the Community Engagement Program (CEP) was launched in 2006 by the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) to build a strong foundation for racial and religious harmony. This is done via social integration activities across society to raise inter-racial and inter-religious understanding. In the UK, the Office of Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT) was set up in March 2006 to oversee a national counter-terrorism strategy termed CONTEST which has four components.6 Of these four, the PREVENT component focuses on community engagement to stop terrorist recruitment, and campaigns against violent extremism.7 Key agendas under PREVENT include preventing Muslim migrant minorities from supporting violent extremist ideologues, addressing their grievances and challenging the rhetoric of violent radicalism.8 Central to both CE programmes is the creation of integrated communities as a long-term goal to prevent home-grown terrorism. Both programmes aim to build awareness and understanding by encouraging grassroots-level organizations to hold bonding activities at the community level.9 In Singapore, Interracial Confidence Circles (IRCCs) were set up at each constituency to conduct programmes such as visits to places of worship and inter-faith dialogues to enhance ties across ethnicities and religions. In the UK, various civil society groups have conducted exhibitions and hosted dialogue sessions for the same purpose, such as the Luton Ambassadors or the Birmingham Study Circles.10 Through these activities, community members develop social networks of trust and mutual understanding.11 With a high level of social capital generated from civic interactions, members of the community would develop a sense of belonging to society.12 Under such a context, it is difficult for extremist ideologies to flourish; therefore, the threat of terrorism from within diminishes. Both the CEP and PREVENT seek to challenge extremist beliefs. In Singapore, this is done primarily by leaders of the Muslim community, ranging from imams (religious teachers) who have voluntarily set up the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) to put a moderate Islamic voice in the public, to Muslim intellectuals such as Muhammad Haniff Hassan who has founded a counter-ideology weblog to repudiate radicalism.13 In the UK, a similar organization called the Black Country Imams advocate the need for professional, moderate Muslim clerics to engage extremist literature.14 By giving these Islamic intellectuals a public platform to air their views, Muslim minorities in both the UK and Singapore have a moderate religious role model to look up to. Furthermore, engaging the concerns of extremist ideologies in the public sphere allows for the counterideology messages to be broadcast to a wider audience. This is especially important as it reduces the reach of radical clerics who often poach destitute Muslims via subtler methods such as charming them in a religious debate in a moderate mosque. The RRG and Black Country Imams are thus elevated as legitimate preachers of the faith in the public’s eye: conversely, the underground radical imams are more likely to be shunned by the public.15 CE Programmes also aim to address the grievances of Muslim minorities. In both Singapore and the UK, the Muslim minorities are the poorest in their communities.16 In Singapore, Malay Muslims have “crystallized at the bottom rungs of society” and risk socio-economic alienation from the Chinese-majority population.17 Hence, the community self-help group Mendaki has been roped in as a key driver in the CEP. Through study loans and focus group discussion, Mendaki helps to alleviate the financial burdens of the most deprived Malay-Muslims. Similarly in the UK, the majority of its Muslim population consists of migrants’ whose incomes are below the national average.18 Under PREVENT, a £6 million Pathfinder fund was set up to help these vulnerable groups through programmes to build civic leadership and strengthen these migrant’s role in the social fabric of the UK.19 This is important as not all of the homegrown terrorists of JI and the July 2005 attacks were impoverished souls: a common grief shared by all of the perpetrators was that they felt out of touch with their current lives because their beliefs were considered too taboo to be broached. Thus, these initiatives ensure that the impoverished minorities will not fall out of social networks and become vulnerable targets of terrorist recruiters. However, in the modern context of global Islamic terrorism, CE programmes are hamstrung by two contemporary issues that occur outside such programmes’ strategic frameworks. For one, it is hamstrung by foreign policies that would aggravate extremists. For another, it fails to take into account self-radicalization and the changing values of Muslim minorities. If left unaddressed, these two issues can adversely affect CE programmes.
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Foreign Adventures: Contradictory Messages of Integration and Intolerance
Unfortunately, foreign policies counteract against the good faith shown through CE programmes. Singapore’s friendship with the US was a cause for terrorists to target Singapore. The relationship implies the government’s consent to the aggressive foreign policy of the US in its non-UN-sanctioned invasion of Iraq. For example, Singapore’s wooing of the US has led to its image as a “staunch US ally” in Iraq.20 Singapore’s relationship with Israel and continued support for US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has been quoted by Singaporean Mohammad Hassan bin Saynuddin @ Fajar Taslim, the leader of the Palembang terrorists, as a reason to target Singapore for a terrorist attack.21 Similarly, the UK’s support for the US has become a popular rallying cry for radical extremists to recruit disenfranchised British Muslim youths. The 7th and 21st July bombings were committed in part out of dissatisfaction of the UK’s solidarity with the US in invading Iraq. Siddique Khan, the leader of the four terrorists behind the 7th July attacks, stated in his video that “democratically elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world”.22 Hussain Osman, one of the bombers in the 21st July bombing of the London Tube, “meant to draw attention to the war in Iraq”, claiming that he wanted the British to pull out of its alliance with the US.23 The Blair government later “acknowledged that [the] Iraq [War] was being used to recruit terrorists”.24 These sources point to the general belief that the UK became a target for terrorists because of its participation in the coalition forces that invaded Iraq. Arguably, British terrorism expert Bill Durodie astutely raised the point that Khan made no references to Iraq during his confession; instead, Durodie pins the blame on an inner schism of British society, where disenfranchised Muslim migrants fail to integrate with others.25 As such, an observer with a trained eye would quickly see that the London bombings were not the repercussions of British foreign policy in the Middle East, but the failures of its domestic policy in integrating a diversifying society. Even so, one can make the case that the UK’s alliance with the US has contributed to Khan’s detachment from society. To disenfranchised and devout British Muslim men like Khan, a national policy that declares war on a country where Islam is the national religion would pit brother against brother in the ummah. This further alienates this group from society at large, which places them at risk of spiraling into radicalism. Secondly, the presence of their militaries in the Middle East, the cradle of the Islamic faith, adds further problems. The Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) has assisted the US-led occupation of Iraq since 2004.26 Likewise, under Operation TELIC, up to 46,000 British troops were brought into Iraq.27 Regardless of their intentions, the very deployment of military assets to assist in an immensely unpopular war effort has stoked the ire of fundamentalist Muslims. For instance, Fajar Taslim wanted to protest against Singapore’s presence in Iraq by targeting a SAF overseas base.28 For extremists like Fajar Taslim, the image of military troops is synonymous with the insensitive anti-Palestinian policies of Israel.29 The terrorists can thus rally more sympathetic souls for their cause. Therefore, military interventions are but “political oxygen” to recruit more terrorists-to-be.30 The intolerance exhibited in their foreign policies therefore stands in contrast with the pro-integration policies of CE programmes and thus cripples the latter in its implementation.
Off Limits: Limitations in Delving into the Private Mind
Another shortcoming of the CE programme is its failure to look deeper into the individuals that make up the community. Common to both CE programmes is the strategy of developing social capital to prevent radicalization.31 Much of this work is carried out by extant groups that operate on the community platform. However, in recent years, cases of self-radicalization have proved rampant amongst individuals who are left out at the margins of society. The case of Abdul Basheer, a law graduate who was self-radicalized via the internet, contributes to a growing statistic worldwide.32 There are two main reasons behind this phenomenon. First, the authorities are only beginning to appreciate the extent of a psychological shift in Muslim minority-migrants. As most of the extant literature on the War of Terror focuses on Middle Eastern countries where the population is overwhelmingly Muslim, there has been a lack of research about Muslim minorities.33 Second, violent ideologies have flourished in alternative spaces such as the internet where CE groups have a limited presence. In both aspects, CE programmes have yet to be able to deliver effective responses. Firstly, there is a generational shift in the way how Muslim minorities experience their religion. Ramakrishna identifies this as an “existential identity anxiety” that is endemic amongst contemporary Muslims.34 In a British survey conducted in 2007, older Muslims tend to be moderate but their children and newer immigrants are more likely to be more religious.35 There were also rising indication of prosegregation sentiments amongst youths.36 Durodie and Mirza et al attribute this to the implicitly xenophobic nature of British society, and warned against “sleepwalking into segregation”.37
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In particular, Muslim migrant youths are especially susceptible as they are they unable to fit into the social fabric of modern British society. Such dislocations prompt these youths to question their position in society. The experiences of Ed Hussain, a former extremist who founded the promoderate Quilliam Foundation, illustrate this: he delved deep into religious texts in his formative years to escape the harsh life growing up in a Muslimdominated ghetto, and landed up joining a series of fundamentalist Islamist movements.38 PREVENT’s failure to integrate Muslim minorities with shifting expectations of society and their own religion presents a problem in averting home-grown terrorism. Secondly, the internet has provided an alternative public space that facilitates self-radicalization. Unlike the public sphere which is easier for governments to monitor, the internet’s transnational and virtual nature resists such institutional oversight. In addition, it is a low-cost, highly informational and interactive platform where identities are nebulous.39 The infamous London-based “undisputed ‘superstar’ of ‘Jihadism online’”, Younis Tsouli @ “Irhabi007”, utilized popular forums to act as a hub between lay Muslims and the regular jihadist online community.40 These alternate sources of information become unquestioned truth when constantly received by a recipient over time. Eventually, increased religiosity isolates them from their physical reality and reinforces a dogmatic approach to extremism, thus leading to radicalization.41 To be fair, there are a handful of counter-ideology proponents that have surfaced of late, but these are hopelessly outnumbered by the span and reach of extremist websites.42 Furthermore, current counter-ideology websites do not actively engage the lay reader but merely contest the claims of the extremists.43 Therefore, self-radicalization occurring in the private sphere poses a credible threat to the counter-terrorism objective of CE programmes.
In Britain, the propensity to recognize the Muslim voice and identity under PREVENT has counterproductive consequences. What has been lauded as affirmative action for an aggrieved minority has unfortunately stereotyped the Muslim community as monolithic and violent, as outlined by Samuel Huntington.44 As if the media’s blinding limelight on unstable Muslim-dominant states in the Middle East were not enough to reinforce the stereotype of Islam as a bellicose religion with bloody borders, the UK government’s efforts to recognize diversity in its community via PREVENT has further stereotyped the British Muslim community. For instance, the British government invested £100 million for translation services in 2006 to make the UK a more conducive place to stay for migrants.45 This runs contrary to the social integration ideals of PREVENT as minorities would have less incentive to take up English. As a result, the standards of English amongst Asiandominant schools in Britain declined. The unfortunate end of the slippery slope is the creation of segregated ethnic enclaves: a local middle school which pandered increasingly to migrants was eventually renamed from Drummond to Iqra School.46 This has fuelled the perception of Asian migrants as a threat; the fact that they are predominantly Muslims furthers the stereotype of an expansionist “Other” that threatens the Anglo-Saxon British way of life. Consequently, the Muslim migrant in the UK is more likely to become a rejected outcast of his or her community. Without any vested interest or identification with the neighbourhood, the radical extremists who promise acceptance in exchange for piety become a much more palatable, even acceptable, group. There are fears amongst British think-tanks that should this phenomenon persist, the resultant reverse discrimination in the UK would trigger even more social unrest and provoke even more Muslim extremists into a militant defence of their religious way of life.47 This perception of institutional bias against Muslims amongst the masses would lead the Muslim migrants to misconstrue even the best of intentions delivered under a CE programme, resulting in further polarizations between the state and its Muslim society.48
Counterterrorism in the Public Sphere: A Short-changed Objective?
Ironically, both CEP and PREVENT exacerbated racial and religious fault-lines by putting the Muslim minority communities under a harsh media spotlight that has invited negative scrutiny. Other conditions that affect the effectiveness of such programmes include the liberal tolerance for extremist religious groups and the lack of representation for the Muslim communities. While the former facilitates the radicalization of disenfranchised Muslims, the latter spurs the same group to pursue other deviant means to find a sense of identity in society. The following section explores these effects.
Porous Borders: Liberal Attitudes towards Migrant Extremists
In the clichéd paradigm of the globalized modern world, a single community is but a node in a network of other communities. The same holds true for domestic communities, and terrorists are very much part of this transnational flow. The UK remains an attractive destination for exiled imams from religious extremist groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir (Global Islamic
Affirmative Action: Respecting Diversity or
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Political Party). Over time, these fiery preachers have been able to radicalize pockets of disenfranchised Muslim migrants. Radical Islam is already known for its diasporas, but they have prospered in the UK: fiery anti-Western Wahabi imams from abroad enjoy cult-like status in Britain’s leading mosques, such as the Green Lane Mosque in Birmingham.49 Even when fundamentalist clerics do not enjoy such popularity, they are still dangerous when they engage in “grassroots jihadism”; that is, the attempt to use “multiple private spaces” like basements, bookshops or even gymnasiums to proselytize a small, core group.50 This problem remains unrectified under PREVENT. While it seeks to prevent religious extremism, the UK still exhibits a surprising tolerance for political parties, even if they fall on the far end of the spectrum, such as the ultra-conservative British National Party (BNP). There is still no nation-wide scheme to screen imams who are members of the Hizb-ut-Tahrir: the Black Country Imams scheme mentioned earlier has only 36 members thus far, as participation is solely voluntary. Within prisons, there are no existing programmes to curb the growing trend of “grassroots jihadism” at such underground venues.51 As such, Durodie’s argument about the “clash within civilizations” can possibly take place.52 Secondly, CE programmes have done little to improve the social representation of minorities. Despite its goal of achieving social integration, this is usually done so by emphasizing how each group plays a role in the community. Singapore’s CEP, for example, borrows heavily from the Total Defence strategy to give rise to a sense of shared destiny. Despite its pro-grassroots nature, the CEP is mostly directed by several prominent state-formed Malay-Muslim organizations such as the Islamic Religious Council (MUIS)55 or Mendaki. This was done in an attempt to improve the social capital of the community, which Robert Putnam posits as a form of social glue to create horizontal bonds across society.56 In the Singapore case however, these groups lack autonomy as they are under the supervision of the national government. Consequently, many Malay-Muslims do not truly regard such groups as representative of their interests.57 Similarly, there is a dearth of civil associations for Muslim migrants from South Asia in the UK. The lack of heroes from their community, be they sportsmen or Members of Parliament, could result in some turning to other sources of leadership in the form of religion that has been skewed to include extremist beliefs.
For one, the standard of debate about the Muslim community needs improvement. Ramakrishna pointed out that most terrorists would not deign to engage moderate Ustazah (Islamic intellectuals) as the latter are deigned as munafiq (hypocrites). Therefore, existing identified “good radicals” should be judiciously recruited to engage “bad radicals”.58 This allows for debates to be brought to the fore in living rooms or chat rooms instead of public denials of extremism. This can flush the extremists out into the open and raise the public’s awareness about this issue. Admittedly, this can open up a whole can of worms. Governments turn away from this strategy in fear of a public relations nightmare if the co-opted extremist Ustazah fail to gain an upper moral hand. However, there have been success cases: Indonesia, despite the failure of its CE programmes, has successfully promoted a co-opted JI leader, Nasir Abbas, in its strategy of “creeping de-radicalization”.59 This has hampered JI’s recruitment efforts, as a former respected leader publicly engages the issues of the extremists and denounces them. Both the CEP and PREVENT will benefit if they can recruit the likes of Mas Selamat bin Kastari or Omar Bakri Mohammed. Ultimately, the key is not to sweep extremism aside, but rather “cognitively immunize” these extremists from sliding down a slippery slope into violent radicalization, by letting current extremists be aware of the harm an extremist ideology is capable of and thus diverting them from pursuing a militant practice of their faith.60 Of course, moderate Muslim intellectuals should
Denied Opportunities: Lack of Representation in the Community
The growth of these abovementioned radical groups is exacerbated by the lack of mainstream avenues for Muslims to participate in their societies. In the public sphere, CE programmes are affected by a lack of representation in the public arena on two accounts: political and social. In the first, disenfranchised Muslims may resort to more violent means to get themselves heard by their communities. In a recent field report in December 2008, Mina Al-Lami reminds us that terrorism is the result of political marginalization: with reference to the “lost generation” of Muslim youths in the UK, they have been denied representation at both the community and national levels. Whilst the former is occupied by a senior generation that focuses on Islam as a holistic, personalized religious experience and shun the younglings, the latter comprises state-appointed groups that do not reflect their interests. Al-Lami concludes that “with the doors of national and local politics closed on the one hand, and the doors of radical Islamism wide open on the other, it is no surprise that many youths turn to the latter”.53 Gartenstein-Ross and Grossman’s empirical examination of 56 British home-grown terrorists found that all of them were politically radicalized by their commitment to violent extremism. Given their situational context of a stifling political environment, these radicalized few turned to violent anti-social acts to express their views.54
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continue their current work of encouraging critical thinking amongst Muslims in practicing their faith. Already, Ustazah in these countries have established a close relationship with research centres to develop intellectual works in this field.61 In addition, rote traditionalism in Islamic education should be avoided as much as possible. Sociologist Noor Aishah binte Abdul Rahman specifies traditionalism as a primordial tendency to adhere to religion as it was practiced in a romanticized imagined past.62 As such, charismatic traditionalist imams become very appealing for minorities who feel left out of their communities. Religious education should teach students to recognize extremist literature and examine its inapplicability in the current world. While Singapore madrasahs have fielded a curriculum that includes a healthy critical interest in current affairs, there are no such regulations for religious education in the UK. In both cases, the contributions of current Islamic scholars remain pertinent. Secondly, CE programmes would benefit greatly from an improved public diplomacy campaign by the US and Israel. Whilst the JI and other Islamic radical groups blame the friendly relations of Singapore and UK with the US and Israel, their real aim is to influence the foreign policy decisions of the latter two by targeting its allies in a proxy attack to wound the US. In particular, the US State Department had invested US$900 million to send pro-US Arabic speakers to the Middle East, but neglected Muslims who speak Bahasa Indonesia or British immigrants who converse in Bengali or Urdu.63 As such, CE programmes should be standardized and co-ordinated bilaterally or even across a region. Not only will this ensure public diplomacy efforts across countries will achieve its maximal effects, it can also deny terrorists from finding greener pastures by simply uprooting. Thirdly, a more feasible option to minimize CE programme-foreign policy contradictions is to encourage better policy congruence across the government. The “whole-of-government” approach has been an up-and-coming term in public administration, and with regards to counterterrorism efforts, they are all the more important considering how each programme can only be as strong as the next weakest policy in averting terrorism. Hence, foreign policy should be sensitive yet fair: Singapore and the UK should be firm in their support against terrorism and possess the moral fortitude to criticize unwarranted behaviour in their allies as well.64 results in the long term: thus, there are no immediate results that CE programmes can deliver. If anything, the decline in home-grown terrorism in Singapore and the UK had more to do with other anti-terrorism measures such as the implementation of laws. In Singapore, the Internal Security Act has claimed success in pre-empting terrorist attacks with a series of legalized detentions between 2001 and 2003.65 In the UK, community policing – a concept that was implemented before PREVENT – was credited for the swift arrests of the perpetrators of the 21st July 2005 bomb plot. Until the CE programmes have been allowed to run for at least a decade or so, it is hard to measure its success in keeping out terrorist threats. In addition, CE programmes are affected by generational attitudinal shifts, alternative venues of radicalization and foreign policy measures. While the first two are due to design limitations of the CE programmes, the last problem lies outside the ambit of domestic authorities. This last issue is best resolved via tighter co-ordination across key decision-makers of both foreign and domestic policies. Nonetheless, this paper does not seek to rule that CE programmes are a failure. Programmes like CEP and PREVENT have been successful in consolidating the community and “hardening” society against terrorism in the long run. However, in the interim, it lacks the ability to address the multivariate root causes of terrorism.66 As such, this new buzz in counterterrorism has the potential to become a stinging bee to hurt terrorism; otherwise, it risks being but an irritating drone to the ears.
Conclusion: Making CE Programmes Work in the Short Run Too
In conclusion, to view CE programmes as a panacea for terrorism in the long run while neglecting its short-term objectives is ironically myopic. A key limitation of its design is that it aims to produce
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1 2 Henceforth termed “CE programmes”, to avoid confusion with Singapore’s Community Engagement Programme (CEP). Ministry of Home Affairs, Speech at National Community Engagement Programme (CEP) at Orchid Country Club, 18 April 2009, http://www.mha.gov.sg/news_details. aspx?nid=MTQxMA==-JQkIsppXKoc= (accessed 12 October 2009). Home Department of the United Kingdom, The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism (London: The Stationery Office, 2009), 6. Sivasathivel Kandasamy, “A Comparative Study of the Counter-Terrorism Strategies in the West with Objective of an Effective Strategy for Indian Scenario”, South Asian Analysis Group, Paper number 3025, http://www. southasiaanalysis.org/%5Cpapers31%5Cpaper3025.html (accessed 30 October 2009). Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), Factsheet on CEP, http://www.Singaporeunited.sg/cep/index.php/ cluster/content/download/3400/61471/version/3/file/ CEP+Factsheet+%28English%29.pdf (accessed on 28th October 2009). Ramakrishna, Kumar, Radical Pathways: Understanding Muslim Radicalization in Indonesia (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Security International, 2009), 15; Kamala Kanta Dash, “Fighting Terror: Politics, Police and Community Engagement in India”, Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies, http://www.ipcs.org/article_details. php?articleNo=2853 (accessed 28 October 2009) CONTEST is the term for the UK’s counterterrorism strategy and is not an acronym. Similarly, the four aspects of the strategy – PREVENT, PURSUE, PREPARE and PROTECT are not abbreviations. This paper follows the standard nomenclature in the literature and capitalizes these terms. Her Majesty’s (HM) Government, The PREVENT Strategy: A Guide for Local Partners in England, http://www. crimereduction.homeoffice.gov.uk/crimereduction029.htm (accessed October 2009). PURSUE aims to stop terrorist attacks, PREPARE aims to build up social resilience in the aftermath of an attack, and PROTECT is designed to find measures to raise the physical security of borders. Her Majesty’s (HM) Government, The PREVENT Strategy: A Guide for Local Partners in England. MHA, Factsheet on CEP. HM Government, The PREVENT Strategy, 20 – 21. Ministry of Home Affairs, Singapore United: The CEP Journey 2006-2008 (Singapore: Ministry of Home Affairs, 2008), 4. Robert Putnam and Kristin A. Goss, “Introduction” in Democracies in Flux: The Evolution of Social Capital in Contemporary Society, edited by Robert D. Putnam (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), 3. Mohammad Haniff, U-Start, http://counterideology. multiply.com (accessed on 18th October 2009). HM Government, The PREVENT Strategy, 19 – 20. HM Government, The PREVENT Strategy, 19 – 20. Basia Spalek and Alia Imtoul, “Muslim Communities and Counter-Terror Responses: ‘Hard’ Approaches to Community Engagement in the UK and Australia”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 27, no. 2: 194; Kamaludeen bin Mohamed Nasir, “Rethinking the ‘Malay Problem’ in Singapore: Image, Rhetoric and Social Realities”, Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 27, no. 2: 316. Kamaludeen, “Rethinking the ‘Malay Problem’”, 315 – 316. Ceri Peach, “Muslim Population of Europe: A Brief Overview of Demographic Trends and Socioeconomic Integration” in Muslim Integration: Challenging Conventional Wisdom in Europe and the United States, edited by Steffen Angenendt et al (Washington, D.C.: Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2007), 9. Home Department of the United Kingdom, The United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, 82. Agence France-Presse, “Singapore urges US to finish the job”, International Institute of Strategic Studies Website, http://w w w.iiss.org/whats-new/iiss-in-the-press/presscoverage-2006/june-2006/Singapore-urges-us-to-finishjob-in-iraq/ (accessed 10th October 2009). 21 Ministry of Home Affairs, White Paper: The Jemaah Islamiyah Arrests and the Threat of Terrorism (Singapore: Ministry of Home Affairs, 2003) p. 11; Salim Osman, “Planned Attack on Changi”, Straits Times Digital, http:// www.straitstimes.com/Breaking%2BNews/Singapore/ Story/STIStory_325854.html (accessed 15th October 2009). 22 Mina al-Lami, “Studies of Radicalization: State of the Field Report”, Politics and International Relations Working Paper 11 (2009): 7. Khan further lashed out “And until you (the UK government) stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight”. 23 CNN World, “Bomb Suspect: No Al-Qaeda Link”, CNN. com – World, last updated on 1 August 2005, last accessed 4 November 2009, <http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/ europe/07/31/london.tube/index.html>. 24 BBC News, “Reid: Bombers never blamed Iraq”, BBC News, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/4764345.stm (accessed 30 October 2009). 25 Durodie, Bill, “Home-grown Nihilism: The Clash within Civilizations” in The Defence Academy Journal, February 2008, 5. 26 Ministry of Defence (Singapore), “Fact Sheet: SAF’s Contributions to Multinational Reconstruction Mission in Iraq”, MINDEF website, http://www.mindef.gov. sg/imindef/news_and_events/nr/2009/mar/20mar09_ nr/20mar09_fs.html (accessed 17th October 2009). 27 Ministry of Defence (UK), “Operations in Iraq: About the UK mission in Iraq”, MoD Factsheet, ht t p://w w w.mod .u k / De fenc eI nter ne t / Fa c t She e t s/ OperationsInIraqAboutTheUkMissionInIraq.htm (accessed 17th October 2009). 28 International Crisis Group, “Indonesia: Radicalisation of the ‘Palembang Group’”, International Crisis Group Update Briefing, May 2009, 13. 29 Control Room, Dir. Jehane Noujaim, Magnolia Pictures, 2004. This observation was made by Hassan Ibrahim, a senior producer in Al-Jazeera. 30 Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 183 – 184. 31 See earlier section 2.0 on the aims of CE programmes. The creation of integrated communities would help to promote an inclusive society that would reduce the number of vulnerable groups at the margins of society that could be radicalized by extreme ideologues for violent purposes. 32 Jeremy Au Yong, “DIY Terrorists”, Straits Times Online, http://w w w.pv tr.org/pdf/ICPV TR inNews/DI Y%20 terrorists.pdf (accessed 17th October 2009). Arguably, law graduates are hardly your typical marginalized individuals, but Abdul Basheer had sought to find meaning in Islam via unorthodox methods. Had he engaged in religious studies via more conventional routes, his self-radicalization would have been much more unfeasible. 33 Kim Knott, Alistair McFayden, Sean McLoughlin and Matthew Francis, The Roots, Practices and Consequences of Terrorism: A Literature Review of Research in the Arts & Humanities (Leeds: University of Leeds, 2006). Indeed, in most counter-terrorism texts, the experiences of the likes of the UK and Singapore have been brushed aside. 34 Ramakrishna, Radical Pathways, 31 – 35. 35 Munira Mirza, Abi Senthilkumar and Zein Ja’far, Living Apart Together: British Muslims and the paradox of multiculturalism (London: Policy Exchange, 2007), 5. 86% of Muslims felt religion was central to their lives; however, 37% of 16-24-year-olds prefer shariah laws which were higher than the 17% of 55-year-olds who did. 36 Mirza, Senthilkumar and Ja’afar, “Living Apart Together”, 37 – 39. 37% of 16-24-year-olds and 25% of 45 – 54-yearolds prefer Islamic state schools.In comparison, only 19% of respondents over the age of 55 did so. This reflected that the latter generations are preferring to assert their religious identity. 37 Mirza, Senthilkumar and Ja’afar, “Living Apart Together”, 37 – 39. 38 Ed Hussain, The Islamist: Why I joined radical Islam in Britain, what I saw inside and why I left (London: Penguin Books Ltd., 2007), 265 – 267. 39 Gabriel Weimann, Terror on the internet: the new arena, the new challenges (Washington, D.C.: United States Institute of Peace Press, 2006), 29 – 30. 40 Peter R. Neumann and Brooke Rogers, Recruitment
8 9 10 11 12
13 14 15 16
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and Mobilization for the Islamist Militant Movement in Europe, (London: International Centre for the Study of Radicalization and Political Violence, 2007), 88 – 89. Paul K. Davis and Brian Michael Jenkins, Deterrence & Influence in Counterterrorism (Santa Monica, California: RAND, 2002), 21. Paul K. Davis and Brian Michael Jenkins, Deterrence & Influence in Counterterrorism, 243 – 247. Ng Sue Chia, “Advertising Lessons for Homeland Security: Countering Every Extremist View on the Web not the Best Way”, Today, 2 March 2009, 22. Huntington, Samuel P., Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of a New World Order (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 11. Mirza, Senthilkumar and Ja’afar, “Living Apart Together”, 24. Mirza, Senthilkumar and Ja’afar, “Living Apart Together”, 24. Mirza, Senthilkumar and Ja’afar, “Living Apart Together”, 27 – 28. Brian Michael Jenkins, “Outside Expert’s View” in Home-grown Terrorists in the US and UK: An Empirical Examination of the Radicalization Process, edited by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Laura Grossman (Washington, D.C.: FDD Press, 2009), 8 – 9. Brian Michael Jenkins, “Outside Expert’s View”, 12. Al-Lami, “Studies of Radicalization: State of the Field Report”, 6 – 7. Peter Neumann, “Joining Al-Qaeda: Jihadist Recruitment in Europe”, Adelphi Paper, 399, 60. Durodie, “Home-grown Nihilism: The Clash within Civilizations”, 5. Al-Lami, “Studies of Radicalization: State of the Field Report”, 7. Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Laura Grossman, “Concrete Manifestations of Radicalization”, in Home-grown Terrorists in the US and UK: An Empirical Examination of the Radicalization Process, edited by Daveed GartensteinRoss and Laura Grossman (Washington, D.C.: FDD Press, 2009), 35. Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. Robert Putnam, “Bowling Alone: America’s Declining Social Capital”, Journal of Democracy, Vol. 5, No. 1, 1995, 67 – 68. Lynden H. S. Pung, The Malays in Singapore: Political Aspects of the ‘Malay Problem’, academic exercise, (Ontario: McMaster University, 1993), 46. Ramakrishna, Radical Pathways, 172. Bekto Suprapto, “Deradicalization Strategy and Practices in Indonesia”, paper presented in London, October 2007, quoted in Ramakrishna, Radical Pathways, 176. Ramakrishna, Radical Pathways, 167 – 168. As of October 2009, several well-known Singaporean Islamic scholars are pursuing PhDs in the Rajaratnam School of International Studies such as Ustaz Mohamed Feisal and Muhamad Haniff Hassan. Noor Aishah binte Abdul Rahman, “Traditionalism and its impact on the administration of justice: the case of the Syariah Court of Singapore”, Inter-Asia Cultural Studies, Vol. 5, No. 3 (2004): 416. Ramakrishna, Radical Pathways, 188. Muhammad Haniff bin Hassan and Mohammed bin Ali, “Assessing Strategies in Counter-ideological Work and Practical Solutions to Radicalization in the Community”, ICPVTR – Ideological Responses, http://www.pvtr.org/ coreprojects_strategiccounterterrorism_ideological.htm (accessed 18th October 2009). Ministry of Home Affairs, A Singapore Safe for All (Singapore: Ministry of Home Affairs, 2002), 10. James J. F. Forest, The Making of a Terrorist Volume 3: Recruitment, Training and Root Causes (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger Security International, 2008), 13.
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55 56 57 58 59 60 61
Seah Ru Han is a Political Science and USP graduate from the Class of 2010 and served as a Writing Assistant. This ISM was inspired by an internship with the Ministry of Home Affairs, and meticulously guided by Dr. Terence Lee. It was made possible with the generous support from friends and peers. The writer would like to apologize to fellow occupants of Chatterbox for taking up too much space in the student lounge with the books referenced in the service of this essay.
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Public Sector Funding of Scholarships in Singapore: An Economic Analysis Of The Recruitment Of Public Sector Talents
The awarding of scholarships by the public sector in Singapore has been increasing in recent years. Is the awarding of overseas scholarships as beneficial as the awarding of local scholarships? And should the public or private sector take up the role of the awarding of scholarships?
Ho Kim Cheong, Lee Yern Fai, Thomas Zhuo Dianyun
and ministries annually to introduce the array of both local and overseas scholarships to aspiring PreUniversity students who hope to gain a step ahead of their peers in terms of future career prospects. After all, a scholar could look forward to a high paying job with potentially quick career advancements. Schools have also made it easier for students to access information on overseas education and scholarship organizations. Top-tier Junior Colleges like Raffles Junior College and Hwa Chong Institution hold annual scholarship fairs, engaging scholarship boards to come and introduce their organizations while exposing the students to the ever expanding range of scholarships.2,3 Application processes have also been made easier. Online portals like brightsparks4 provide a one-stop career information and scholarship application platform for students. More than 280 scholarships are available on the website and students can easily submit their scholarship applications to many scholarship organizations using a standardized application form provided by brightsparks. With the huge proliferation of scholarships by the public sector, one cannot help but wonder if such schemes are effective in getting the best talents to steer Singapore’s future. These scholarship schemes administered by the public sector are fully funded out of taxpayers’ money and thus it is paramount to consider if such investments are well spent. A quick check at the Public Service Commission (PSC) Scholarships5,6 website reveals that the scholarship board has sent fifty-nine out of seventy-three scholarship recipients in 2008 and forty-three out of fifty-two in 2007 (about 80% of recipients for both years) to renowned overseas institutions in the United States and in the United Kingdom.7 Such overseas studies involve huge expenditures of public funds, and one may wonder if these expenditures can be considered “worthwhile”, especially when it seems that the government is investing a lot more in overseas scholars than in their local counterparts. Also, the recent revelation in July 2008 of former A*Star Chairman Mr. Philip Yeo’s preference for poorer families when it comes to awarding scholarships also puts a spotlight on whether the household income level of scholarship recipients8 can influence the level of benefits an organization is able to receive from its scholars. The answers to these wide ranging questions are debatable, but through the empirical study on public sector scholars’ opinions on their scholarships, we hope to shed some light on the relationships between the level of benefits gained by the organization and several independent variables such as the amount of public funds invested in the scholars (Cost) and the household income levels of the scholars (I). Based on the analysis of the collected data, findings which affect the benefits gained by the organization were made and these modify our regression model. Limitations in the research methodology will also be discussed. Even though this study focuses on
uman talent is often regarded as one of Singapore’s main pillars of economic growth. The government has spent a huge amount of effort in attracting foreign talent to sink their roots in Singapore, as well as in mitigating the brain drain from Singapore citizens moving overseas. Even as it tries to actively promote Singapore as a favourable destination to overseas expatriates, the government has not forgotten to select and groom talented young Singapore citizens to hold leadership positions in future. In fact, since the 1990s, both the public and private sectors have been engaging the Pre-University students (i.e. Junior College and Polytechnic students), awarding scholarships to top individuals who excel in academic and non-academic activities. However, it is only in recent years that efforts, especially those by the public sector, have been intensified. The public sector has provided a range of scholarships aimed at attracting local talents from eighteen-years-old. Scholarships amounting up to $500,0001 are used to provide scholars with an overseas or local education, alongside typical bonds of four to six years. The objective of using scholarships as a tool is perhaps aligned with the old adage of “the early bird catches the worm,” with the public sector securing the best of Pre-University students right after they have graduated so that they can be groomed to fill important positions in the future. It is interesting to note how scholarship boards have been eager, and perhaps even aggressive in attracting talents. Scholarship fairs have been jointly organized by statutory boards
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analysing the effectiveness of public sector decisions on expenditures in the area of talent recruitment, this paper will also explain why the public sector, instead of the private sector, is the one that is spearheading local talent recruitment through the disbursement of scholarships. In its entirety, this paper seeks to understand whether the government’s decision on the investment of public funds in the scholarship holders is fully justified. Furthermore, by using the empirical results, this paper will suggest if the government should adopt changes to talent recruitment policies in the public sector. Questionnaire For our empirical study, a questionnaire regarding talent recruitment policies (Annex 1) was sent out to a group of 137 undergraduate and post-graduate scholars who had been awarded public sector scholarships such as PSC scholarships, A*Star scholarships and MOE scholarships for either local or overseas education. 129 of them are undergraduate scholars while 8 are postgraduate scholars. The scholars were identified through primary contacts (we know the scholars personally) and secondary contacts (where the scholars forward the questionnaire to other scholars whom they know). They answered a total of nine questions concerning the scholarships and their perceptions towards their awards. As some of the survey questions are sensitive in nature, respondents would not be identified by name or scholarship organization. The results of the respondents were collated and regressed to determine if there are any relationships between the identified independent variables and the dependent variable Y, which has been defined above as the number of years the scholar intends to stay on top of his or her bond requirements. In trying to determine the regression equation of interest E1 in our study, three variables which may potentially affect Y and have implications on the efficiency of public sector talent recruitment were identified. The regression equation of interest (using Ordinary Least Squares estimates) is Y = β0 + β1 (Cost) + β2 I + β3 S + u --- (E1)
Definition For the purpose of this paper, we shall define the “net benefits” of sponsoring the scholar for the public organization in terms of the number of years the scholar intends to serve beyond his or her bond requirements (denoted as Y). The reason for not including bond requirements is that the scholarship bond states the minimum number of years the scholar has to serve in the organization, which is equated to the cost of sponsoring the scholar’s education. Thus, the net benefits gained by the company will be calculated by the extra number of years the scholar intends to stay with the organization as shown in Figure 1. An assumption that we have made in our study is that scholars will serve at least the minimum bond requirements as stipulated in their scholarship contracts. There will be no scholars who will be breaking their bond and therefore, Y≥ 0.
Figure 1: Determination of Y, the dependent variable Note: A scholar with high preferences for other organizations still has to serve the minimum bond requirements (4 years; Y=0), albeit at a lower utility curve U1, while a scholar who has a strong preference to serve the scholarship organization will serve (4 +Y) numbers of years at a higher utility U2’. Homothetic preferences, where utility is assumed to increase in constant proportions for the consumption of two goods, are assumed for the individual.
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where Y = Number of years on top of the bond requirements the scholar intends to serve in the organization Cost = Total amount spent on the scholar (measured in thousands of dollars) I = Household income level of the scholar (measured in thousands of dollars) S = Signalling perceptions of the scholar (1) Cost In the process of hiring workers, employers are often unsure of the abilities of prospective employees; they cannot indiscriminately offer jobs to just anyone and learn about the hired employee’s productive capabilities later as this will involve high costs and very often, an employee’s capabilities and suitability in work will take a long time to ascertain. There is uncertainty in hiring and this implies that the hiring of workers is an investment decision. We assume the scenario of self confirmation, where the behaviour of the employee hired in the workplace is consistent with the employer’s perception of the worker given a set of displayed signals and the level of wage offered. This cycle regenerates itself and there is an equilibrium information feedback.11 Employers thus look out for various signals to help them determine the capabilities of prospective employees. Workers who are perceived to have higher ability tend to be given higher wages, while those with perceived lower abilities are given lower wages. On the part of the workers, different signals based on for example, their education levels will be indicated to the employers. In a utility function of wages and level of education for workers Ut(W, E) in Figure 2, utility is assumed to be (1) strictly increasing with wage; (2) strictly decreasing with years of education and (3) strictly concave.12 One important assumption made by Spence is that lower ability workers (t=1) have higher marginal costs of attaining higher education13 than higher ability workers (t=2), and this implies that lower ability workers have a steeper utility function compared to higher ability workers. In the case of the separating equilibrium, where workers of both types are separated, high ability workers will select education level E2 and low ability workers will select education level E1 in order to maximize their utility respectively14, as shown in Figure 3. In our study, the scholars were asked how strongly (on a Likert scale of 1-7, with 1 being the weakest signal and 7 being the strongest) they feel their scholarships reflect their capabilities to prospective employers (not the scholarship organization). Using a modified version of Spence’s model, where utility is a function of wage and number of years in the organization Ut(W,y)15, we aim to point out that positive perceptions of the scholars toward their scholarships’ signalling effect bear a negative impact on the number of years they intend to stay with the scholarship board (i.e. negative β3). In the modified model’s scenario, workers are assumed to be already employed by the organization can decide the number of years they are willing to stay in the organization. Utility functions, as in the case of Spence’s model, are assumed to be (1) strictly increasing with wage; (2) strictly decreasing with the number of years spent in the organization and (3) strictly concave. However, what is notably different in this model is that utility is now assumed to be steeper for the higher ability workers (different from Spence
We were eager to find out if the amount of investment in a scholar, be it for local or overseas education, can affect the number of years the scholar intends to stay in the organization. The cost (total amount spent on the scholars) includes the tuition fees, maintenance allowances, sponsorships for overseas exchanges and other miscellaneous fees. The fact that many public sector boards choose to send their scholars overseas seems to allude to a point that overseas scholars will contribute significantly more to the organization upon their graduation. Is it really true that “the more you spend on one, the more loyal one is to the organization,” (i.e. positiveβ1) or could it be the contrary? (2) Household income level (I) It is also interesting to investigate if recipients coming from poorer family backgrounds are more inclined to serve longer in their scholarship organization (and therefore generate higher Y). In addition, one could examine if what Mr. Philip Yeo had pointed out, the case that “those from less comfortable homes [are] more likely to stay [on] the course [in the organization],”9 is true. On the other hand, could it be that people who come from poorer family backgrounds may aim to seek even greener pastures (by leaving their scholarship organizations after they have completed their bond) due to their hunger for more success (i.e. negative β2)? (3) Perceptions by scholars regarding their scholarship’s signalling ability (S) Signalling in the job market is first proposed by A. Michael Spence10 and further research on dynamic information flows and contract theories has also been spawned by economists such as George A. Akerlof and Bernard Salanié. In the original model, Spence suggests that the level of education obtained can be used by workers to signal their ability to employers so that employers will offer a higher wage for those with higher education.
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model). The basis for this reasonable assumption is that workers with higher abilities may believe that their skills and competencies are attractive to other organizations, which will be willing to employ them. Therefore, in order to keep them staying in that particular organization longer, they need a higher wage rate to be on the same utility curve. We can also extend this idea to the case of scholars (t=3) – if a scholar thinks that his or her scholarship will signal a higher level of ability and hence better attractiveness to other organizations, his or her utility curve will be even steeper than the high ability workers. In this case, in order to make the scholar stay in the organization for the same period of time as the high ability workers (who do not hold “scholar” status), a higher wage rate,
W=3y, is necessary. A comparison for the three types of workers is shown in Figure 4.
For the same wage rate, W=y, y3<y2<y1 due to the different steepness of the utility functions. In order to make the high ability workers stay at the organization for as long as the low ability workers (number of years = y1), a higher wage rate of W=2y must be offered to them. In the case of the scholars, an even higher wage rate of W=3y has to be offered to make them stay in the scholarship-awarding organization. Hence, for a scholar with a steeper utility, ceteris paribus, we postulate that the number of years he or she chooses to remain in the scholarship organization will be shorter, if he or he is given a wage of W=y instead
Figure 2: Utility curves for low ability workers U1 and high ability workers U2
Figure 3: A separating equilibrium where workers of both abilities aim to maximize their utilities, resulting in differing levels of education attained and different wages
Figure 4: Comparison of utility functions of a low ability worker (U1), high ability worker (U2) and scholars (U3)
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of W=3y. Perhaps y3 is the bond completion period and it would be timely for the scholar to leave the organization (based on indifference curve analysis) unless the organization offers a higher salary (for example W=3y) to him or her. Following the insignificant results of the initial model, other variables were identified and equation E2 was devised: Y = β0 + β1A + β2S + β3D1 + β4D5 + u --- (E2) where A = On a scale of 1 [strongly disagree] to 7 [strongly agree], the extent to which the scholar agrees that the scholarship programme will aid him or her in developing better organizational and management skills D1 = Dummy variable of value 1 if the scholar indicated passion for the vocation as the top reason for taking up the scholarship; 0 other wise D5 = Dummy variable of value 1 for an overseas scholar; 0 for a local scholar The regression results for E2 are shown in Table 2. The results in Table 2 were a marked improvement from E1, with each of the four independent variables being significantly different from 0 at the 5% level. Looking at the Adjusted R-squared value, it was observed that 39.40% of the variation in the number of years a scholar wishes to serve on top of the bond requirements can be explained by A, S, D1 and D5. Here are short explanations of the results pertaining to each of the four variables: A – For each unit increment on our scale of 1 to 7 (i.e. the more the scholar agrees that the Std. Error 1.253509 0.002137 0.085744 0.228657 t-Statistic 5.581359 -1.647917 0.018779 -0.080406 0.950948 0.418058 Prob. 0 0.1017 0.985 0.936
Initial regression model (Table 1) Y = β0 + β1 (Cost) + β2 I + β3 S + u --- (E1) As mentioned earlier, the regression equation E1 was devised to investigate the relationship between Y and the variables of interest (Cost, I, S). Compiling the responses from the 137 scholars surveyed, a regression was done using EViews and the results in Table 1 were obtained. The regression results were insignificant, with the coefficients of the three independent variables being close to 0, and none of them significantly different from 0 at the 5% level. Adjusted R-squared was also a low value at -0.001083. An F test was also done to determine the case of H0: β1= β2=0 against the alternative hypothesis H1: at least β1 or β2 ≠ 0, and the test statistic was not significant at 5% level too, thus supporting the regression results that Cost, I and S do not predict Y well. From our adapted model of signalling, however, we believe signalling to be a factor that affects Y (for the same wage, higher signalling would mean a lower Y), so the probable reason for the insignificant coefficient for S here is that we have omitted relevant variables from equation E1. Revised regression models Table 1 Variable C COST I S
Coefficient 6.996281 -0.003522 0.00161 -0.018385
R-squared 0.021 F-statistic Adjusted R-squared -0.001083 Prob(F-statistic) S.E. of regression 3.554963 [Note: C is the constant term β0 in the equation] * indicates that the result is significant at 10% significant level ** indicates that the result is significant at 5% significant level
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Table 2 Variable C A S D1 D5 Coefficient 0.637508 1.752227** -0.507913** 1.707359** -1.764901** Std. Error 1.070412 0.222366 0.200961 0.512589 0.494863 t-Statistic 0.595572 7.879916 -2.527427 3.330853 -3.566443 23.10883 0 Prob. 0.5525 0 0.0127 0.0011 0.0005
R-squared 0.411857 F-statistic Adjusted R-squared 0.394035 Prob(F-statistic) S.E. of regression 2.76582 [Note: C is the constant term β0 in the equation] * indicates that the result is significant at 10% significant level ** indicates that the result is significant at 5% significant level scholarship programme is beneficial in aiding his or her development of better organizational and management skills), a scholar is willing to stay an additional 1.752 years beyond the bond requirements, ceteris paribus. S –For each unit increment on our scale of 1 to 7 (i.e. the more strongly the scholar feels that his or her scholarship reflects his or her capabilities to prospective employers other than the scholarship organization), a scholar will decrease Y by 0.5079, ceteris paribus. D1 – In our survey, we asked the scholars to select from several options the main reason they took up the scholarship, including reasons such as passion for the job, high prestige and peer pressure. From Table 2, we see that a scholar who indicated passion as his or her top reason for taking up the scholarship will serve an additional 1.707 years beyond the bond requirements, ceteris paribus. D5 – Overseas scholars on the average choose to serve 1.765 less years beyond the bond requirements as compared to their local counterparts, ceteris paribus. As a counterpart to E2, equation E3 was devised: Y = β0 +β1A + β2S +β3D3 + β4D5 + u --- (E3) where D3 = Dummy variable of value 1 if the scholar indicated monetary allowances or full education subsidy as the top reason for taking up the scholarship; 0 otherwise. The nature of the dummy variables D1 and D3
means that they are mutually exclusive; a scholar cannot choose both passion and monetary allowances as his or her top reason for taking up the scholarship. Table 3 shows the regression results from equation E3. Similar to the results from E2, each of the four independent variables was again significantly different from 0 at the 5% level. The respective coefficients for A, S and D5 were also similar to that in E2. What was notable, however, is that the adjusted R-squared value of 0.4222 is higher than the 0.3940 in E1, suggesting that D3 is slightly better than D1 at predicting Y. On average, a scholar who indicated monetary allowances or full education subsidy as his or her top reason for taking up the scholarship will decrease the number of years served beyond the bond requirements by 2.132, ceteris paribus. Adding Cost and Income to the revised models With the relative successes of E2 and E3, more regressions were processed to test if the seeminglyirrelevant variables of Cost and I could turn out useful when applied to the revised models. The results are shown in Table 4. Unfortunately, in each of the equations F1 to G3, coefficients for Cost and I were near 0 and were not significantly different from 0 at the 5% level. In fact, the introduction of Cost to the equations had an especially adverse effect on D5, as it was not significantly different from 0 at the 5% level in models F1, F3 and G3. These findings affirm the conclusion from equation E1’s regression results that cost and income do not have any effect on Y.
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Table 3 Variable C A S D3 D5 Coefficient 2.969738 1.592047** -0.52413** -2.131559** -1.720683** Std. Error 1.095859 0.224729 0.192996 0.50149 0.478958 t-Statistic 2.709964 7.084299 -2.715761 -4.250449 -3.592553 25.84252 0 Prob. 0.0076 0 0.0075 0 0.0005
R-squared 0.439181 F-statistic Adjusted R-squared 0.422186 Prob(F-statistic) S.E. of regression 2.700809 [Note: C is the constant term β0 in the equation] * indicates that the result is significant at 10% significant level ** indicates that the result is significant at 5% significant level Table 4 F1 -0.000998 (0.00314) -0.055772 1.75089* (0.223167) -0.516729* (0.203546) 1.713598* (0.514718) (0.069343) 1.74389* (0.222905) -0.516429* (0.201508) 1.815606* (0.530628) F2 F3 -0.000926 (0.003146) -0.055179 (0.069615) 1.742738*
Cost I A S D1 D3 D5
G1 0.000606 (0.003078)
G3 0.000735 (0.003088) -0.049729 (0.06703) 1.581692* (0.226344) -0.528587* (0.197329)
-0.048835 1.591214* (0.066683) 1.58287*
(0.223721) (0.225591) (0.225473) -0.524516* -0.517686* -0.536175* (0.204072) 1.820241* (0.53272) -2.140774* -2.200995* (0.511242) -1.639996* (0.492289) 3.331768 2.705565 0.42015 (0.196444) (0.194034)
-2.213433* (0.515748) -1.828401 (0.933222) 3.264957 2.71536 0.415944
-1.682254* (0.506069) 0.946124 2.769526 0.392409
-1.446576 (0.948131) 1.043878 2.779232 0.388143
(0.505495) -1.877383* (0.929285) 2.909131 2.710696 0.417948
Intercept, 0.746434 C SER 2.775286 Adjusted 0.38988 R²
[Note: Values in parentheses indicate the standard error of the estimated coefficient * denotes coefficients which are significantly different from 0 at the 5% level
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Analysis of regression From the initial model E1, it can be considered that sponsoring an overseas scholar makes little economic sense for the sponsoring organization. Cost has no significant effect on the number of years a scholar is going to stay with the sponsoring organization after completion of his bond (Y). The scholar probably would not take strongly into account the value of his or her scholarship when deciding to stay or leave after the completion of his or her bond. Therefore, intuitively, the cost of a scholarship is going to weigh heavily in a cost-benefit analysis and an overseas scholarship results in high costs and relatively low benefits in return. A cost-benefit ratio is computed from the data to quantify the cost needed to yield an additional year of service from the local and overseas scholar respectively. (Average value of Local Scholarship)/Bond =65.357/3.976= 16.437 (thousands) (Average value of Overseas Scholarship)/Bond =321.509/5.849= 54.968 (thousands) From the cost-benefit ratio, the cost of sponsoring an overseas scholar is 3.344 times as much as sponsoring a local scholar for a year of service. Although overseas scholarships are more prestigious than local scholarships, suggesting higher quality applicants and thus higher quality scholars, it is inconceivable that overseas scholars are 3.344 times as productive as local scholars. Furthermore, in the revised regression models (E2 or E3), it can be observed that overseas scholars on the average tend to stay 1.7 years less upon the completion of their bonds as compared to local scholars, ceteris paribus. This is further evidence to suggest that awarding overseas scholarships is not cost efficient. Moreover, it would be unrealistic to conclude that on average, overseas scholars would serve 1.72 years less than a local scholar, having held factors like signalling constant. From our data, overseas scholars have a higher signalling on average (5.528) compared to local scholars (4.533). From Spence’s model, we can postulate that the years the scholar is going to stay in the sponsoring organization would be even shorter due to a higher signalling and this becomes further evidence to support the analysis that funding overseas scholars makes little economic sense from the costbenefit perspective. Justification scholarships of public sector overseas funding of local scholars. Still, there are a considerable number of overseas scholarships, especially public sector scholarships, being awarded in Singapore. The analysis thus far has been focusing on private benefits to the awarding organization and it is assumed that organizations are only concerned with the private benefits accrued. However, it is plausible that public sector boards have taken into account the external benefits of a scholarship when offering it since they are funded by tax payers’ money. To aid the analysis, an upward-sloping Total Private Benefits (TPB) and Total Social Benefits (TSB) have been assumed for local and overseas scholars in Figure 5. This is reasonable as a scholar would gain more experience and expertise with a longer stay in the organization and is able to better contribute with a deeper understanding of the company’s business and strategies. As mentioned previously, an overseas scholarship (OVS) is much more prestigious and ensures a higher quality of scholars eventually. This explains the reason why the TPB and TSB of an overseas scholar are higher than that of a local scholar. The slopes are also larger for the overseas scholar as overseas scholars are likely to serve in critical positions within the organization. The Total Cost (TC) of an individual scholar is a horizontal line as the value of the scholarship is tentatively a fixed sum. The average value of an overseas scholarship is much higher than the average value of a local scholarship (LC) so TC-OVS is above that of TC-LC. From Figure 5, we see that for an overseas scholarship, if the organization is concerned with only its private benefits, it would need a substantial bond period to break even. Public organizations, however, take into consideration social benefits as well, so they break-even with a lower number of bond years for an OVS-Bond. This explains why public organizations are often the ones offering overseas scholarships. On the other hand, the external benefits for local scholars are not as high, so TSB-LC is only slightly higher and steeper than TPB-LC, resulting in a smaller gap between LC-Bond and the private break-even point compared to the gap for overseas scholarships (this will be elaborated later on). Serving in critical positions, overseas scholars’ decisions are likely to have a larger positive impact on the society. Of the nineteen ministers in the Singapore cabinet in 2005, 12 were ex-scholars and most of them were educated overseas before coming back to serve the country.16 It is expected that the trend of sending scholars overseas and grooming them for important positions is set to continue. Moreover, most of the overseas scholars tend to be accepted into worldclass universities like the Ivy League or the likes of Cambridge and Oxford. These global exposures will benefit them and their future employers as they will
The analysis thus far has suggested that the funding of overseas scholars is not as favourable as the
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be interacting and studying with fellow elites and learning from the best professors in the world. An overseas education would also force them to learn to be independent and move away from their sheltered lifestyle in Singapore, nurturing key skills like maturity, cultural awareness and sensitiveness. These are benefits that the local scholars may not be able to experience and therefore, overseas scholars would have a higher external benefit to society as they are able to contribute distinctively differently from the majority of the local university graduates. Therefore, the slightly longer overseas scholarship bonds ensure that the public sector scholarship boards break even on their investments when external benefits have been incorporated into the analysis, even though they are a much more costly investment. In Figure 6, both local and overseas scholarships have a downward sloping MPB and MSB curve due to the law of diminishing returns. Marginal private benefit (MPB) is additional “benefit” accrued to the scholarship organization as it awards one more scholarship, while marginal social benefit (MSB = MPB+EB) is the additional amount of “benefit” to society as an additional scholarship is awarded, where EB is the amount of marginal external benefit on top of the marginal benefit. When more and more scholarships are awarded, the next scholar will be contributing less towards the organization and the society, resulting in reduced benefits from this
Figure 5: Comparison of TPB and TSB of an individual local and overseas public scholar (individual perspective)
Figure 6: Comparison of MPB and MSB of local, overseas public scholarships (Market Perspective)
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Figure 7: Comparison of D1 and D3 private sector scholars scholar. The MCs of local and overseas scholarships are horizontal lines in Figure 6 due to the assumption that every local scholarship is of the same value and this applies to the overseas scholarships too. This is a fair assumption as seen from the survey; the local scholarships’ values tend to be at $65,351 and the overseas scholarships at $321,509. Although the issuing of overseas scholarships has been justified by the TPB and TSB analysis on the average individual local and overseas scholar, the high cost of the scholarship has resulted in less overseas scholarships being awarded. This can be observed in Figure 6 as even after incorporating the external benefits to the society, the number of local scholarships Q*(LC) still outnumbers the number of overseas scholarships Q*(OVS). Private sector scholarships It is easy to estimate the MSB of the local and overseas scholars when the analysis was on public sector scholarships as it can be safely assumed that a scholar would most probably be contributing to the economy during his or her working life. However, this analysis cannot be applied to private scholarships. Private scholarships are funded by the company’s profits and thus private sector scholarship boards are only concerned with the private benefits of awarding scholarships (i.e. the number of years a scholar will stay with the organization). As it would be hard to project how long a scholar is going to work with the awarding organization, the MPB will be complex to ascertain when analyzing private sector scholarships. From the regression, D1 (passion) has a positive coefficient while D3 (monetary) has a negative coefficient. In this case, private sector scholarship boards should target candidates who have strong passion for the vocation, admire the organization’s goals and visions and fit into the organization’s culture. Although it is hard to ascertain the passion of a potential scholar and to differentiate the scholars’ motives in getting the scholarships, the chances of obtaining suitable candidates can be largely improved through a more rigorous interview process and perhaps even granting an internship to potential applicants before awarding the scholarships. This will ensure that the scholar himself or herself makes a well-informed choice and reduces the private sector scholarship boards’ risks. Nonetheless, the risks faced by a private sector scholarship board are high. As observed in our regression and shown in Figure 7, a D3 scholar would probably not serve in the organization for as long as a D1 scholar. In our theoretical figure, this sponsoring company would probably be making a small gain, regardless of sponsoring a D1 or D3 local scholar. However, the sponsoring company would still likely be making a large loss for a D1 or D3 overseas scholar as shown in Figure 7 as the total amount of funds invested in the overseas scholar is a lot more than a local scholar. Moreover, as explained earlier, the break-even point for private firms is only slightly higher than LCbond – this can explain why private firms are much more willing to sponsor local scholars. Bond years for private local scholarships are typically set the same as their public counterparts, so it might seem that the private firms are making a loss. However, they might place value in the offering of scholarships as a form of social and community service or for reputation
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concerns. Overall, compared to their public sector counterparts, private sector scholarships tend to consist a larger proportion of local scholarships. From the cost-benefit analysis, the private organization will find it difficult to attribute the value a scholar can bring; hence they are less willing to award scholarships. Despite the possible recommendations to the private scholarship boards, it is difficult for the private sector scholarship boards to be able to ensure that their benefits outweigh the costs of the scholarships. Offering a much longer bond period to safeguard its private interests would be futile as potential applicants may just ignore these private scholarships and aim for public scholarships. The private sector scholarship boards are not concerned with the external benefits a scholar can offer. This is possibly the reason why the public sector gives out more scholarships than the private sector even though Singapore’s public sector only employs 30% of the workforce, as compared to the private sector’s 70%. Referring to Figure 6, it can be seen that if only private benefits were considered, the number of scholarships awarded will be reduced, be it in the local scholarships or overseas context. Thus, in general, it is expected that private organizations offer less scholarships and most of the scholarships awarded are local ones. not be disbursed due to their high costs. However, when external benefits are included in the analysis, it could be feasible to award both public sector local and overseas scholarships as the number of years served by an overseas scholar is longer than that of the local counterpart. It might also be beneficial for the public organization to identify scholarship applicants who place passion instead of monetary incentives as their top priority in accepting the scholarships. As the private sector is only concerned with the private benefits of disbursing a scholarship, it makes little economic sense for them to disburse scholarships and therefore, it is observable that most scholarships are issued by the public sector instead. To complement this study, a further study can be done on this topic with scholars who have completed their bond. Their actual behaviour will serve as a more accurate reflection of the benefits a scholarship can bring to the awarding organization.
There are other ways of assessing the “benefits” associated with sponsoring the scholars, such as the amount of revenue or business the scholar has brought to the organization. However, such methods of determining the benefits are difficult and therefore sidelined. Another limitation of this study is that the survey measures only the intention but not the actual behaviour of the scholars. They have not served their bond and may not have real exposure to the work in the scholarship organization and thus may give an inaccurate response as to how willing they are and the actual number of years they will stay in the organization. Nevertheless, the scholars would have done research before taking up the scholarship to see if it suited their interests, or perhaps even have served an internship with the organization, and thus their responses still provides a reasonable estimate.
In this paper, it is found that the value of the scholarships would not have an effect on the number of extra years the scholar will continue to stay in the sponsoring organization after fulfilling their bond. Therefore, it appears that overseas scholarships should
Volume 3, Issue 1, August 2010 | 81 ANNEX 1
Public Sector Funding of Scholarships in Singapore Questionnaire 1. What is the approximate monthly income of your household (in SGD)? • • • • • • • • • • • < 999 1,000 - 1,499 1,500 - 1,999 2,000 - 2,999 3,000 - 3,999 4,000 - 4,999 5,000 - 6,999 7,000 - 8,999 9,000 - 10,999 11,000 - 14,999 15,000 • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 10K - 19K 20K - 29K 30K - 39K 40K - 49K 50K - 59K 60K - 69K 70K - 89K 90K - 109K 110K - 149K 150K - 199K 200K - 249K 250K - 299K 300K - 349K 350K - 399K 400K
2. What type of scholarship are you currently under? Note:i. Public Scholarship refers to scholarships awarded by the public sector, which includes government (PSC and Ministries) and statutory boards (Eg. MAS, EDB, PUB, etc.). ii. Private Scholarship refers to scholarships awarded by private companies in Singapore (Eg. SIA, Keppel, SGX, Natsteel, Singapore Power, etc.). • • • • • Public - Local Scholarship (With Bond) Public - Overseas Scholarship (With Bond) Private - Local Scholarship (With Bond) Private - Overseas Scholarship (With Bond) Bond Free Scholarship
4. How many years of bond are you required to serve for the scholarship? • • • • • • • • • • • 0 Year (For Bond Free Scholarship Holders) 1 Year 2 years 3 years 4 years 5 years 6 years 7 Years 8 Years >8 Years
3. What is the approximate monetary value (in SGD) of your scholarship? Note: Value includes tuition fees, allowances, reimbursements, accomodation, grants for student exchanges, etc. • < 10K
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5. Approximately how many more years ON TOP OF YOUR BOND REQUIREMENTS do you expect yourself to serve in your scholarship organization? Note: For Bond Free Scholarship holders, please select “0 year” • • • • • • • • • • • • 0 year 1 year 2 years 3 years 4 years 5 years 6 years 7 years 8 years 9 years 10 years >10 years programme will aid you in developing better organizational, management skills, 1 being strongly agree and 7 being strongly disagree? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8. On a scale of 1 to 7: with 1 being the weakest signal and 7 being the strongest signal, how strongly do you think your scholarship reflects your capabilities to prospective employers (apart from your scholarship organization)? 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
9. Suppose you have just completed your scholarship bond, and another organisation offers you 1.5 times your current salary for a job of similar scope to your current one. Will you take up the offer? • • Yes No
6. What are the top 3 reasons, ranked in order of importance, why you took up the scholarship? i. Monetary allowances are given and/or education is fully subsidised ii. High level of prestige ii. Assured employment with the organization and good salary upon graduation iv. Possibility of more career opportunities and quicker advancement v. Passion is in line with the objectives of the scholarship organisation vi. Peer pressure vii. Recommendation of the scholarship by family members and teachers viii. Others 7. How far do you agree that your scholarship
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1 Highly prestigious overseas scholarships like SAF-OS Scholarships could amount to up to $500,000. The amount of funds spent on local scholars would be to the tune of $30,000 to $120,000. Raffles Institution (Junior College), “Raffles Institution (Junior College) - University Admission and Scholarships.” Accessed March 23, 2009, from www.rjc.edu.sg/new/ss_ scholarships.htm Hwa Chong Institution, “Hwa Chong Institution Scholarships.” Accessed March 23, 2009, from www. hwachong.edu.sg/ContentPage.asp?SID=110 For more information, please refer to www.brightsparks. com.sg The PSC Scholarship is a premier public sector scholarship which aims to attract young talents who are committed to contributing to the crafting of national policies. It is seen as a manpower management tool where scholarship recipients are groomed to head various portfolios in ministries when they graduate. Public Service Commission, “Three New PSC Scholarships for Bright Students, One at Masters Level; 52 Win Scholarships to Study Here and Overseas.” Accessed March 23, 2009, from Public Service Commission Scholarships Press Releases: www.pscscholarships.gov.sg/CMMON/200 7+PUBLIC+SERVICE+COMMISSION+SCHOLARSHI PS+AWARD+CEREMONY.htm Public Service Commission, “List of PSC Scholars 2008.” Accessed March 23, 2009, from www.pscscholarships.gov. sg/NR/rdonlyres/CF107BB1-390C-45F9-8D3D-8A1A4 552B1B6/23075/2008listofscholars1Aug2008.pdf: Public Service Commission. Jeremy Au Yong, “Closet Socialist” Philip Yeo Favours Poorer Students.” Accessed March 23, 2009, from The Straits Times - Pioneers of Singapore: www.straitstimes. com/Pioneers%2BOf%2BSingapore/Philip%2BYeo/Story/ STIStory_260825.html Jeremy Au Yong, “Closet Socialist” Philip Yeo Favours Poorer Students.” Accessed March 23, 2009, from The Straits Times - Pioneers of Singapore: www.straitstimes. com/Pioneers%2BOf%2BSingapore/Philip%2BYeo/Story/ STIStory_260825.html A. Michael Spence, “Job Market Signaling,” Quarterly Journal of Economics , 87 (3) (1973): 355-374. A. Michael Spence. “Job Market Signaling,” Quarterly Journal of Economics , 87 (3) (1973): 355-374, p.360. David Krepes, A Course in Microeconomic Theory (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1990). Higher cost in Spence’s definition does not mean actual cost like the cost of education, but rather time, effort and the mental capacity spent in attaining the level of education. It is assumed that the firm is able to correctly identify workers’ types when seeing the signal from the level of education and thus offer different wages. If firms see education level E1, they know that they are workers t1 and thus will offer wages of w = E. Same goes for high ability workers of type t2, who will then be offered w = 2E2. However, in the case of the pooling equilibrium (which is not discussed here), where workers pool at a single equilibrium level, firms may be unable to determine the type of worker and therefore expected wages will be calculated using Bayes rule. Note that y (the total number of years in the organization) ≠ Y (dependent variable in our regression equation). Barr, M. D., “The Charade Of Meritocracy,” Far Eastern Economic Review (2006).
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Kim Cheong is a senior student majoring in Economics and Liberal Arts under the NUS – Waseda Double Degree Program. He has interests in microeconomics, particularly industrial organisation, competition economics and strategy. He enjoys reading on marketing and immersing in Japanese culture and language. Yern Fai is a senior student majoring in Economics. He has a range of interests in microeconomics, philosophy, and trading. Dianyun is a senior student majoring in Economics. He has interests in financial and health economics, especially the sustainability of social security systems. He enjoys reading on personal finance and ancient philosophy. This paper was co-authored by them in submission for the Public Finance Module under the Department of Economics.
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A Pilot-test: Masked Priming Number-word Judgment Test for Chinese-English-Malay Trilinguals
It is proposed that the degree of semantic activation in translation depends on lexical form overlap between translation equivalents. Exact translation equivalents are predicted to be processed faster compared to number words translation equivalents. Does this hold true for Chinese-EnglishMalay trilinguals?
Ruth Ng Lu De
the same time. Since number words develop their strong L2 form-to-meaning mapping earlier than other words (which have more diffused meanings), there is easier semantic activation (de Groot and Poot 1997). Hence, number words are a unique case where “well-confined meanings completely overlap across languages”(Duyck and Brysbaert 2008). Thus, it would be interesting to conduct a pilot test to examine priming effects across number words which have very similar translation equivalents. This investigates the relationship between semantic mediation and lexical form overlap. This paper aims to investigate if the degree of semantic activation, depending on lexical form overlap between translation equivalents as argued by Duyck and Brysbaert, still holds true for number judgment tasks with Chinese-English-Malay trilinguals. To test this hypothesis, I conducted a pilot test. A small group of trilinguals were chosen for this study to expand current trilingual research in the Singaporean context. Masked priming, of number words in the three languages and the Arabic digits, will be carried out before a target Arabic digit is displayed on the screen. Masked priming is a process where a word is flashed very quickly before the target such that only the brain but not the eye can capture it. Hence, the prime would be deemed as virtually “invisible” to the subjects. Since information about the prime never reaches consciousness, any observed priming effects cannot be a result of any conscious appreciation of the relationship between the prime and the target stimulus, but instead be attributed to the subconsciousness of how the brain stores information about the prime and target. Subjects will be required to judge if the number shown is bigger or smaller than 5. Thus, according to the suggestion made by Duyck and Brysbaert (2008), the following hypothesis for this pilot study is proposed as such:
here has been much research done on bilingualism in investigating how semantics— the meaning of words—is accessed for second language words. An important question is whether translation from a second language (L2) to the native language (L1) is semantically mediated, where the meaning of the word is first identified and then produced in the other language, or whether it occurs through word associations at the lexical level (where words are remembered to be equivalents without having to access meaning). The revised hierarchical model of bilingualism assumes that L2 words primarily access semantics through their L1 translation equivalent (Kroll and Stewart 1994). In addition, recent research has shown that number-word translation also implies semantic access in both L1 and L2, suggesting strong L2 lexico-semantic mappings for number words (Duyck and Brysbaert 2004). It is thus shown that a semantic effect of number magnitude, where accessing time to a target is faster for words that are preceded by related context in meaning, in both directions of translation existed. Yet, semantic access in two number-word translation experiments with Dutch-English-German trilinguals yielded a semantic magnitude effect only in the backward translation (translation of words from L2 to L1) and not in the forward translation (from L1 to L2) (Duyck and Brysbaert 2004). Thus, Duyck and Brysbaert later argued against a dual route model of word translation and proposed that the degree of semantic activation in translation depends on lexical form overlap between translation equivalents. This suggests that translation process for number words can be both semantically mediated and accessed through word association at
Reaction time for exact translation equivalents (e.g. The digit “2” would prime digit “2” since both are exactly the same) would be the fastest in comparison to number words translation equivalents (e.g. English number word “one” priming Arabic digit“1”). If proven, this hypothesis would suggest that translation process can occur through word association (having lexical form overlaps) as well as being semantically mediated at the same time. This means that the hypothesis predicts that when we see “5”, we think of “5” faster than “five”, “五”, “lima” and its numerical meaning of having a quantity of five.
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Conceptual Mediation in L2 Lexical Access (where L2 is linked to L1 via concepts of the meaning of word) The dominant view in the literature on how bilinguals access their semantics is provided by Kroll and Stewart’s revised hierarchical model (RHM) of bilingual memory (1994). Firstly, in the RHM, a distinction is made between lexical representations (representing word forms i.e. nine, 九, sembilan) and semantic representations (representing word meaning e.g. 9 apples). Secondly, the RHM assumes that the conceptual representations are shared among the languages while the lexical representations are language-specific, hence there are different systems of lexicons connected to a single semantic system (Duyck and Brysbaert 2004). Thirdly, the asymmetric assumption is proposed: the links between a person’s L1 lexicon and the semantic system are stronger than the links between a person’s L2 lexicon and the semantic system because word meanings are more strongly activated by L1 words than by L2 words (Duyck and Brysbaert 2004). On the other hand, since L2 words are usually learnt through association with the L1 translation, it is argued that “the direct word-word connections at the lexical level are stronger from L2 to L1 than the other way round” (Duyck and Brysbaert 2004). Thus, conceptual activation is more likely to be engaged in forward translation than backward translation due to the connection asymmetry. The RHM assumes that backward translation from L2 to L1 occurs at a lexical form level through a direct word-word association without semantic access. One implication of the model remains that the asymmetries of the connections will decline as L2 proficiency increases (Talamas, Kroll and Dufour 1999). Criticism of the model was made by Duyck and Brysbaert (2004) who found the model problematic as the lexico-semantic organization in the RHM depends only on general L2 proficiency and does not take into account differences in word types. Thus, they proposed an extension of the RHM which differed from the original in two ways: (1) translation output is the result of activation coming from both semantic and lexical form of representation, which may be more or less activated, and (2) the strength of form-to-meaning mapping is dependent not solely on L2 proficiency but also on the usage and frequency of a word. (Duyck and Brysbaert 2008). small lexical form overlap (e.g. Figure 2: duty - plicht for an English-Dutch bilingual). This assumption provides an explanation for the occasional finding that translation equivalents with a large lexical form overlap—cognate words—are easier to translate. It also shows less evidence for semantic mediation in translation than words with no form overlap (van Hell and de Groot 1998). It has been found that cognates are produced faster than non-cognates and these findings support this assumption that crosslingual form overlap may indeed influence bilingual word production and translation (Costa et al. 2005). Hence, given this assumption, it is predicted that the proposed hypothesis would be true as translation equivalents would be considered to have the greatest lexical form overlap.
Semantic Activation in Number Processing
Various studies have been done on number processing and it has been found that when magnitudes of two numbers have to be compared, it is easier when the difference between the numbers is large (Moyer and Landauer 1967). Similarly, the processing of a number is primed when a number with a closer magnitude is presented immediately before the target appears (Reynvoet and Brystaert 1999). There has also been evidence that the magnitude information would be activated more rapidly for small numbers than for large numbers i.e. it is easier to choose 2 or 3 than 7 or 8 (Moyer and Landauer 1967). Most importantly, there is quite some evidence that magnitude information is not required for all number-processing tasks, that this is only semantically mediated if the experimental task requires the activation of certain semantic information (Fias, Reynvoet and Brystaert 2001). Thus, this pilot test is designed to require some semantic mediation as participants would be required to judge if the number shown is bigger or smaller than 5. As mentioned earlier, numbers belong to a unique category of their own and they have various forms of representations. There is the universal Arabic digit system (e.g. 1, 2, 3, 4 ) as well as number words represented in different ways according to each individual language system (e.g. one, two, three in English and 一， 三 in Chinese). The semantic 二， meaning of a number refers to its magnitude represented by the number (Duyck and Brysbaert 2004). For trilinguals, numbers would have four sets of symbols to represent the same concept: Arabic digits (e.g. 3), number words in their native language (e.g. L1 Chinese: 三 or san), second language (e.g. L2 English: three) and third language (e.g. L3 Malay: tiga). Hence, instead of simply looking at inter-language connections, studying numberword judgment would have an additional aspect of investigating how logographic symbols are related to the languages in our brain. Contrary to object
The Lexical form Overlap Assumption
It is assumed that connections between the lexicalform and semantic level, as well as between L1 and L2 lexical form representations, are stronger for words with a large form overlap (e.g. Figure 2: ball - bal for an English-Dutch bilingual) than for words with a
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pictures, Arabic digits do not take much longer time to name than number words (Ferrand 1999). This suggests that Arabic digits may share something more in common with number words than with logographic symbols of number digits. at random. Participants were also asked to answer the question as fast and as accurately as possible. A DMDX program was used to run 2 sets of files (A and B) made up of 32 items each. The 32 items were made up of 4 items each in the 8 conditions set for this test: (1) Chinese related priming, (2) Chinese unrelated priming, (3) English related priming, (4) English unrelated priming, (5) Malay related priming, (6) Malay unrelated priming, (7) Digital related priming (repeated priming: prime and target are exactly the same) and (8) Digital unrelated priming. Related priming would consist of words that are semantically associated e.g. 1 and “two” which are all numbers though not necessary translation equivalents while unrelated priming would have words that are not associated at all e.g. 3 and “duck”. Subjects were assigned randomly to either file A or B. Each file had an equal number of nine subjects. The two files were created to counterbalance the results to eliminate double priming (where the sequence of the words presented may induce involuntary priming effects). The reaction times and error rates of subjects were recorded for analysis. A short feedback session was conducted after the experiment to ensure that the experiment had run smoothly and no technical difficulties were encountered. Also, this step was taken to check if subjects could see the masked priming which appeared before each number was displayed. If subjects could see a significant amount of priming, the data will be thrown away but this did not happen for this experiment.
Data Collection Chinese-English-Malay trilinguals were first invited to fill in a language background questionnaire form for pre-screening. Only participants that were at least functional in all three languages were invited to do the actual experiment. Functional in this case refers to a self-rating of 4 and above out of a scale of 7 (1: very poor, 7: native-like) in the four language aspects: reading, writing, speaking and listening. 18 selected subjects completed the experiment. Language Background Summary of Subjects All 18 subjects were Malaysians and they were functional Chinese-English-Malay trilinguals between the age of 20 and 24. Years of residence in Singapore was an average of 5 years while that in Malaysia was 17.5 years. Out of the 18 subjects, seven were simultaneous bilinguals where Chinese and English were both acquired at the same time through formal and informal acquisition while Malay was acquired at a later age. Nine had only Chinese as their native language and the remaining two either had English as their only native language, or acquired it together with Malay. The overall dominant language for these subjects is Chinese, as 50% of the subjects name Chinese their only native language, and five out of seven simultaneous bilinguals ranked their proficiency in Chinese higher than that in English. The language in which the subjects were generally least proficient is Malay, as 13 out of 18 subjects acquired it as their third language and ranked their proficiency in it lower than that in Chinese or in English. Testing A number judgment test was carried out and participants were asked to enter “Yes” if the number displayed on the screen was greater than 5, and “No” if the number was smaller than 5. A range of digital numbers from 1 to 9 (excluding 5) was presented Chinese RT (ms) Diff. 455 461 +6 426 446 +20 English RT (ms) Diff 463 479 +16 432 444 +12
Results and Analysis
Reaction Times of File A and B The results were collated into two ISM files (A and B) at the end of the experiment shown below. An ISM file indicated the average reaction time taken for subjects in each condition. An error rate of 10% was set hence the data from any subject who got more than 4 errors (10% of 32 trials is 3.2 errors) will be rejected. No data was rejected. In total, 288 observations should be made for each file (9 subjects x 32 trials) but after modification, file A had only 282 observations and file B, 285 observations. The observations were modified to exclude reaction times that fell out of the two standard deviation. According to the hypothesis, it was expected that Malay RT (ms) Diff 459 449 -10 434 445 +11 Digital RT (ms) Diff 426* 455 +29 400* 439 +39
File A B
*bolded – fastest timing (most priming effects)
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condition (7), digital related priming, would yield the fastest reaction time since it was a case of repeated priming. There should also be the greatest difference between conditions (7) and (8) since the priming effect between digits and digits was the strongest. Chinese, English then Malay should follow the order after the digital condition. This result was exactly replicated in file B where digital related/repeated priming (condition 8) had an average of 400ms, the fastest among all the conditions. Chinese was next with an average reaction time of 426ms, English with 432ms and Malay with 434ms. In file A, the digital related priming was also observed to be the fastest with a timing of 426ms. This was followed by Chinese with a reaction time of 455ms. Interestingly, instead of the reaction time for English being faster than Malay, the results in file A was the inversed. It showed that the reaction time for Malay (459ms) was faster than that of English (463ms). In terms of differences between related and unrelated priming, both file A and B showed that digital difference was the greatest among the rest. File A had a difference of +29ms, while file B had +39ms. Once again, file B’s results were in line with the expected results. The difference between Chinese related and unrelated priming was the second greatest with a timing of +20ms, followed by English +12ms and lastly, by Malay +11ms. File A, on the other hand, yielded another set of interesting data. After digital priming, the differences between related and unrelated priming for English ranked second with a +16ms difference, followed by Chinese +6ms and then Malay with -10ms. Results showed that Malay priming was not useful in file A as a negative value was obtained. This could be attributed to the fact that Malay ranked the least proficient out of the subjects’ three languages. The above unexpected results (different ranking of reaction times and the differences) in file A could be due to various reasons: (1) differences in competency of subjects between file A and B – subjects in B could be stronger subjects than those in A, (2) items in file A may be more slightly more difficult to process – supported by a significant difference in the fastest reaction time between A (400ms) and B (436ms). ANOVA Analysis of the Data The ISM results from file A and B were combined and converted to DAS file for an ANOVA analysis. The overall matrix structure was 2x4x2: 2 item files (A and B), 4 modes (Chinese, English, Malay and Digital Priming) and 2 sub-conditions (related and unrelated priming). From all the analysis generated, only the C Matrix of subject RT (reaction time) and the P-Value of subject RT, item RT and subject percentage error were of interest to this study. Two reaction times will be given for each C Matrix – the first would be the average RT for the related priming while the second one was the average RT for unrelated priming. For P-Values, only those that were less than 0.05 will be considered significant; values that were more than 0.05 will be deemed as insignificant. Overall, the P-value for the subject RT was 0.0200. Since P-Value less than 0.05 were deemed to be significant, strong priming was observed throughout the data. In addition, the C Matrix gave a difference of +13.18ms (related priming: 440.65ms; unrelated priming: 453.83ms) which showed that a related priming trial would yield a faster reaction time. On the other hand, within the item RT, a P-Value found was insignificant. Similarly, the subject percentage error was found to be insignificant. Therefore, the data collected were considered to be accurate since it had a low level of error rate. It can be concluded that overall, a significant priming effect was observed and there was a difference of 13.18ms between the related and unrelated priming RT. a) Chinese Priming analysis The C Matrix of subject RT was given to be +10.5ms. P-Value for subject RT was 0.199; item RT was 0.627 and subject percentage error was 0.207. Hence, since P-Value for all three analyses were above 0.05, all the results were deemed to be insignificant and it can be concluded that Chinese had no priming effect. However, a difference of 10.5ms in the RT difference was observed though it was not significant. b) English Priming analysis Similarly, the P-Values for all the analyses were more than 0.05. Subject RT P-Value was 0.373, item RT was 0.405 and subject percentage error was 0.595. Thus, all P-Values were insignificant. The C Matrix difference was given to be +12.62ms. Hence, though no significant priming effect was observed, there was still an identifiable difference in reaction time. c) Malay Priming analysis The results for Malay were more interesting. Subject RT P-Value was 0.593, item RT P-Value was 1.000 and subject percentage error’s P-Value was 0.0405. The P-Value for error analysis was significant for this case and this could be attributed to the fact that Malay was the weakest language hence the error rate was significantly higher. In addition, the C Matrix given showed that an obvious priming effect was not evident as the difference obtained was -4.77ms. The negative value indicated that priming happened in the wrong direction thus no priming effect could be concluded. d) Digital Priming analysis As predicted, the P-value for subject RT was significant, as 0.0153 is less than 0.05. This proved that
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there was strong priming across the data for digital priming. This supported our hypothesis that digital to digital related priming would have the strongest co-relation hence reaction time between related and unrelated priming would be the greatest. Likewise, the P-Value for item RT was also significant with a value of 0.0132. In addition, the data were of a high accuracy since subject percentage error was insignificant with a P-Value of 0.724. Thus, together with support from the subject RT C Matrix, which gave a large difference of +34.39ms (related priming: 419.78ms; unrelated priming: 454.17ms), it can be concluded that very strong priming effect was evident for digital priming. Despite no strong priming effect shown in the language priming results, it was observed that the C Matrix for Chinese and English priming results had similar RT differences. The difference obtained for Chinese was +10.5ms while that for English was +12.62ms. Thus, in comparison to Malay priming where the difference given was -4.77ms, Chinese and English priming showed greater advantage in their priming over Malay priming. Hence, the results could still be accounted for by the hypothesis proposed in this survey where Malay was deemed to have the least priming effects. The analysis summed up that strong priming effect was evident in the digital to digital priming while priming was not significant for priming of languages with digital numbers though differences were observed. numbers and the semantic task was observed. Thioux compared the semantic processing of numbers and animal names in two different tasks (comparison and classification) to test the hypothesis that knowledge about numbers is associated with increased activation in the parietal cortices, regardless of the semantic task (i.e. Classification: is seven odd? Comparison: is seven larger than five?). Task-independent activation was observed in the left and right intraparietal sulci for number names, whereas task-independent activation of the left inferior temporal gyrus was found for animal names. Thus, this suggests that number names and animal names are stored in different parts of the brain since activation was observed in different areas. Accordingly, the activation classically observed during numerical processing appears to be related to category-specific semantic knowledge about numbers. Likewise, the activation of the inferior temporal gyrus associated with the processing of animal names is probably related to category-specific knowledge about animals. The results showed that different brain regions are important for storing conceptual knowledge about different semantic categories (Thioux et al. 2005). Hence, the question of whether Arabic numbers and number words share the same conceptual representation arises and it has been shown that they share the similar conceptual representation but this representation is stored in different parts of the brain. In addition, the results also gave insights into the relative dominance level of each language with respect to one another. Despite not having a significant effect for priming, there were still observable differences in reaction timings of the subjects. It was clear that Chinese was the dominant language and English was relatively close while Malay was the language in which the majority of the subjects were weakest or least proficient. Thus, the results for this experiment support the initial hypothesis. The findings further support the claim by Duyck and Brysbaert (2004) to include trilinguals that the more similar the lexical form is for translation equivalents, the more the degree of semantic activation and the faster the subjects will react to the priming. However, the problem with claiming this is that the variable is dichotomous— either the prime is exactly the same as the target, or it is totally different. In addition, the results can also be taken simply to show that only words in the same lexicon can prime one another—only digits can semantically prime digits.
The results from this study showed that a strong priming effect was observed only in the condition where digital related priming was observed. There were no significant results given for the other conditions. Hence a possible conclusion is that there is no semantic priming effect for number words. Interestingly, this result is in conflict with current literature views which propose that number words should indicate high semantic access. Upon deeper investigation, this conflict may be attributed to task differences: a translation task requires both production and comprehension whereas a number judgment task only requires comprehension. Therefore, since this pilot test is based on number judgment task, the fact that no semantic priming was observed suggests that semantic access may only occur when production is required. This also gave a new insight into where the digital representations of numbers may be stored in our brain vis-à-vis language representations of numbers. It is suggested that language representation of numbers may be stored in very different places from the digital representation of numbers since no correlation has been found between the two. The probable disassociation between number and language is further supported by a study done by Thioux et al. (2005) which found that no significant interaction between
Limitations and Further Study
One limitation as surfaced by the difference in the results of file A and B was the difficulty in ensuring that the subjects randomly allocated to file A and to file B were equal in their proficiency
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levels. It was noted that though differences in subject proficiency may contribute to a confounding variable of the experiment, this was of smaller significance in comparison to the need to counterbalance the data. The biggest limitation of this experiment was the lack of items for each condition. For the purpose of this study, only four items per condition were tested. In comparison to the usual standard of having at least 20 testable items (per condition), this number was insufficient for any item analysis. Hence, no strong generalization could be made from this study. In addition, the small sample size was also limiting in making significant conclusions. That said, the data from this pilot experiment were able to provide some insights into numeral representation and processing in our brain. Further research can be done on a larger sample size to test if this hypothesis still holds true. that digit primes will similarly have no effect on L1 number targets. Further research can be done in this area to expand the current literature and to find out if the hypothesis proposed still holds true in the other direction.
Firstly, this study has given new insights into how trilingual number word comprehension works. This pilot test suggests that number processing may not need to evoke semantic access if the task does not require it. Since this study focused only on number judgment tasks which relied on comprehension and not production, the lack of significant semantic priming effects observed suggests that semantic mediation may not necessarily be required in this case. Secondly, this pilot study showed that repeated priming still has the strongest priming effect for this specific group of English-Malay-Chinese trilinguals since the exact same word is repeated hence maximum priming is expected. Differences in reaction time among the different languages also point to the relative language proficiency of the subjects. Thus, this pilot study supports and possibly extends the already established claims about bilinguals to also include trilinguals. Lastly, number processes are not primed by language words but numbers do prime number processes (as acknowledged earlier that comprehension tasks do not require semantic access). This suggests that number and language may not necessarily be related—there may be a disassociation of the two domains in our brain. However, from this pilot test, it is acknowledged that a relation may be possible through a common semantic pool which is not captured in this study. Other studies have also found that activation areas of the two are different. Thus, the most interesting observation for this study is that semantic access may not necessarily have to take place before number processing can happen. Currently, this pilot test only works in one direction and it is unknown if the results would be the same if Arabic digits were used to prime number words. According to the proposed hypothesis of this paper, it is speculated
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Campbell, Jamie I. D. 1994. Architectures for numerical cognition. Cognition 53: 1-44. Costa, Albert, Mikel Santesteban, and Agnès Caño. 2005. On the facilitatory effects of cognate words in bilingual speech production. Brain and Language 94: 94-104. de Groot, Annette M. B. and Rik Poot. 1997. Word translation at three levels of proficiency in a second language: The ubiquitous involvement of conceptual memory. Language Learning 47: 215-264. Duyck, Wouter and Bert Reynvoet. 2004. Forward and backward number translation requires conceptual mediation in both balanced and unbalanced bilinguals. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Perception and Performance 30, no.5: 889-906. Duyck, Wouter and Bert Reynvoet. 2008. Semantic access in number word translation: The role of crosslingual lexical similarity. Experimental Psychology 55, no.2: 102-112. Ferrand, Ludovic. 1999. Why naming takes longer than reading? The special case of arabic numbers. Acta Psychologica 100: 253-266. Fias, Wim, Jan Lammertyn, et al. 2003. Parietal representation of symbolic and nonsymbolic magnitude. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 15: 47-56. Fias, Wim, Bert Reynvoet, and Marc Brysbaert. 2001. Are Arabic numerals processed as pictures in a Stroop interference task? Psychological Research 65: 250-259. Kroll, Judith F. and Erika Stewart. 1994. Category interference in translation and picture naming – Evidence for asymmetric connections between bilingual memory representations. Journal of Memory and Language 33: 149-174. Moyer, R.S. and T.K. Landauer. 1967. Time required for judgment of numerical inequality. Nature, 215, 1519-1520. Reynvoet, Bert and Marc Brysbaert. 1999. Single-digit and twodigit Arabic numerals address the same semantic number line. Cognition, 72: 191-201. Reynvoet, Bert, Marc Brysbaert and Wim Fias. 2002. Semantic priming in number. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology: Human Experimental Psychology 55(A): 11271139. Talamas, Adrienne, Judith F. Kroll and Robert Dufour. 1999. From form to meaning: Stages in the acquisition of secondlanguage vocabulary. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 2, no. 1: 45-58. Thioux, Marc, Mauro Pesenti, Nicolas Costes et al. 2005. Taskindependent semantic activation for numbers and animals. Cognitive Brain Research 24: 284–290. van Hell, J.G. and Annette M. B. de Groot. 1998. Conceptual representation in bilingual memory: effects of concreteness and cognate status in word association. Bilingualism: Language and Cognition 1: 193-211.
Ruth Ng is a fourth-year English Language major. This paper was written for an Independent Study Module (ISM) as part of her University Scholars Programme (USP) Advanced curriculum. Ruth is intrigued by how different languages can be stored in one’s brain and how the different levels of proficiency can affect language outcome.
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Solid-Phase Microextraction of Carcinogenic Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons: A Comparative Study of Four Commercial Fibres and an In-house Prepared Device
Currently available commercial fibers used for microextraction of carcinogenic hydrocarbons are fragile and costly. Is an in-house prepared plunger-in-needle extraction device a worthy alternative?
Clara Mou Huiting
PAHs are ubiquitous environmental contaminants. These compounds are originally from a variety of sources including incomplete combustion of organic material, oil spills, industrial processes and other anthropogenic sources.2,3 Their carcinogenic and genotoxic potential has attracted most attention. A number of PAHs have shown carcinogenicity in experimental animals and genotoxicity and mutagenicity in vitro and in vivo.4 Two classes of PAHs can be distinguished - the 2 and 3-ringed and 4 to 6-ringed PAHs. The 2-and 3-ringed PAHs have a significant acute toxicity and the high-molecular-mass PAHs are potentially highly carcinogenic and mutagenic. Hence EPA has promulgated 16 unsubstituted PAHs in their list of 129 priority pollutants. However, only Polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) fibre is commonly used for the analysis of these 16 PAHs. In this project, the comparison and validation of the solidphase microextraction (SPME) and plunger-in-needle procedures for the determination of eight promulgated PAHs in water samples were carried out. Figure 1 shows the structures of the 8 PAHs studied. Several analytical procedures have been developed for PAHs water, soil, air and food matrices analyses. Common methods for extraction of PAHs include liquid-liquid extraction (LLE) using non-polar solvents or solid-phase extraction (SPE).5 LLE, though useful, is a tedious technique that requires copious amount of solvents. Even though SPE method is less time-consuming, it still requires the use of toxic solvents for the elution step.6 Usually, the affinity of compounds in the samples towards the coating determines the amount extracted into the polymeric phase. They are then thermally desorbed directly in the gas chromatographic injector. A very successful new approach to sample preparation is SPME developed
ater pollution caused by organic compounds has caused increasing and worldwide concern. Among such compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) have received considerable attention because of their documented carcinogenicity in experimental animals.1 These compounds are potentially toxic and hence their presence should be carefully monitored both in water for human consumption and environmental water.
Figure 1: Structures of the eight PAH studied, including both the two or three-ringed and four to sixringed PAHs
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by the Pawliszyn group in the early 90’s,7-9 which will be further discussed in the section that follows. Divinylbenzene/Carbowax (PDMS/DVB/CAR) were tested and compared for extraction efficiency assessment.
Conventional Analytical Techniques SPME
SPME is a simple, practical and solventless, but yet sensitive, pre-concentration technique for determination of trace contaminants in environments. It enables direct sample transfer from sample solution to separation analysis as well as integration of multistage procedures into a single step - extraction, preconcentration and purification. Thus, SPME reduces the risk of valuable analyte loss, which is common in traditional extraction methods such as LLE. However, these fragile SPME fibres present drawbacks such as low thermal and chemical stability and swelling in organic solvents.10 The most widely used SPME coating for the analysis of non-polar PAHs has been the 100µm thick PDMS.3,11-13 More recently, mix fibres such as Polydimethylsiloxane/Divinylbenzene (PDMS/DVB) coated fibres have given good results for the analysis of PAHs as well. PDMS is a viscous liquid and non-polar polymer, and together with divinylbenzene (DVB) it produces a porous phase where DVB microspheres are immobilized by PDMS.14 This fibre allows efficient extraction of relatively non-polar compounds and smaller analytes. In this project, a conductive Thiadiazole Fused Indolo[2,3-a]carbazole (TIC) polymer was coated on the plunger of a syringe needle via cyclic voltammetry and used as an extraction device. In addition, 4 different commercial fibres, 100µm PDMS, 65µm PDMS/ DVB, 85µm PA and 50/30µm Polydimethylsiloxane/
SPME Using the TIC Polymer-Coated Plunger (In-House Prepared Device)
The performance of conventional SPME fibres were compared against a novel TIC polymer-coated plunger (see figure 2 and 3). The main advantages of the plunger-in-needle extraction technique were the practical aspects of a stable steel needle and plunger compared to those of a fragile commercial fibre. Extractions of liquid samples were carried out using wall coated stainless-steel plunger. The plunger is attached to a retractable syringe needle, which fits inside a syringe needle housing, as shown in Figure 3. To allow the plunger to emerge from the needle, a Gauge 24 needle was attached to the knob. This diameter was chosen to minimise friction between the coating and the needle. Sampling is accomplished by dipping the end of the plunger in a liquid sample, which is extracted via SPME technique, and the TIC coated plunger will be conditioned at the Gas Chromatograph (GC) injection port prior to the analysis. The important parameters influencing the extent of extraction such as direct SPME and Head Space – Solid Phase MicroExtraction (HS-SPME), extraction time and also the desorption temperature were investigated. This extraction is performed in conjunction with Gas ChromatographyFlame Ionisation Detector (GC-FID).
Synthesis of thiadiazole-fused indolocarbazole polymer
Figure 2: Structure and synthesis of thiadiazole-fused indolocarbazole-based molecules used for coating of plunger via electropolymerization15
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Figure 3: Stylized diagram of a plunger-in-needle set up
Figure 4: Photograph of the plunger-in-needle set up
Aim of Project
The aim of the project is to compare the TIC polymer-coated plunger-in-needle extraction with commercial fibres for SPME of PAHs.
All fibres were conditioned in the hot injector section of Gas Chromatograph for 0.5 hours and at 220°C. To eliminate particulate interference in real water samples, water samples were filtered through a 0.22µm glass microfibre filter paper (Whatman, England). The samples were stored in 100ml aluminium-wrapped glass bottles and refrigerated at 4°C until analysis. Water samples were collected from Ulu Pandan Canal in Singapore. Gas Chromatography-Flame Detector (GC-FID) Conditions Ionisation
Chemicals and Materials PAHs (99% purity) were purchased from Supelco (Bellefonte, PA, USA). Stock solution of 1000mg/L containing 10mg of each PAH was prepared. The 8 PAHs used are as follows: Napthalene (Nap), Acenaphthene (AcPt), Acenaphthylene (Ace), Fluorene (Flu), Phenanthrene (Phe), Anthracene (Ant), Fluoranthene (Flt) and Pyrene (Py). These standards were stored at 4°C and were used for the preparation of working standard solutions. A working standard of 1mg/L was prepared. Ultrapure water was obtained from ELGA Purelab Option-Q (High Wycombe, UK). Methanol was obtained from Tedia (Fairfield, USA). The SPME holders for manual use were obtained from Supelco. Four kinds of different fibres, 100µm PDMS, 65µm PDMS/DVB, 85µm PA and 50/30µm PDMS/DVB/CAR were also obtained from Supelco.
GC-FID analysis was done using a HewlettPackard (Agilent) 6890N Series GC system with a split-splitless injection port and a flame ionization detection (FID) system. The carrier gas was helium at a flow-rate of 1.8ml/min. The detector flow-rates were 450ml/min for air, 40ml/min for hydrogen and 45ml/ min for helium (makeup gas). The Gas Chromatograph was operated in the splitless mode. The splitless time was 0.5 minutes. The injector was maintained at 220°C for all fibres. The temperature of detector was maintained at 280°C. A 30m RTX-5 (5% diphenyl – 95% diphenylpolysiloxane) stainless steel capillary column (0.32mm I.D., 0.25µm film thickness, Restek U.S., Bellfonte, PA, USA) was used for separating the PAHs. The column was held at 40°C for 1 minute
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and increased to 190°C at the rate of 15°C/min, held for 2 minutes, then ramped at 10°C/min to 260°C, and finally increased temperature to 285°C at a rate of 5°C/min which was held for 5 minutes. Solid-phase microextraction and Plunger-inneedle extraction procedures Both extractions were performed by placing 4.5ml of ultrapure water in 8ml amber vials capped with polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE)-coated septa. Aqueous PAH standards were prepared by spiking 0.5ml of working standard to a final concentration of 100µg/L. Magnetic stirring with an 1cm long PTFE coated stir bar was used to agitate the solution at approximately 1000 rpm. The extraction equilibrium was conducted by direct immersion of the fibre into the aqueous phase (direct SPME/direct extraction) of the sample with stirring at room temperature for 45 minutes, the target analytes were sorbed on the stationary phase of the fibres. After extraction, the fibre was thermally desorbed for 1 minute into the injection port of the GC at 220°C. Possible carry-over was prevented by keeping the fibre in the injector for a further 7 minutes with the injector in splitless mode. Blank analysis of SPME fibre and TIC coated plunger did not show obvious carry-over. Moreover, blanks were run periodically during the analysis to confirm the absence of contaminants. The linearity of the method was tested by FID by extracting six aqueous standards with increasing concentrations over a range between 20 - 100µg/L. The limit of detection (LOD) is defined as the concentration of an analyte in a sample that gives rise to a peak with a signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) of 3. The limit of quantification (LOQ) is defined as the concentration of an analyte in a sample that gives rise to a peak with a S/N of 10. Preparation of TIC polymer-coated plunger-inneedle extraction Electropolymerisation of TIC on the stainless plunger by cyclic voltammetry (CV) was done by a postgraduate student at the National University of Singapore. A 3 electrode system was used for the CV. Electropolymerization was carried out in acetronitrile containing 0.1M TBAPF6 as the supporting electrolyte, operating at anodic potential in the range of 0.2 to 1.5V at a scan rate of 100 mV/s for 100 cycles. The monomer concentration in the solution was 0.1M. The tip of the stainless steel plunger (approximately 1.5cm) was used as the working electrode. Silver/ Silver Chloride (Ag/AgCl) was used as a reference electrode and platinum plunger was used as a counter electrode. The deposition and growth of the polymer would be reflected by the gradual increase in current during the cycles. Successfully electropolymerised indolocarbazole polymer present as a yellow-brown uniform deposit on the stainless plunger; and it was washed with acetonitrile to remove monomer and supporting electrolyte. The fibre was dried and conditioned by heating in the GC injector at 2000C for 30 minutes before using it to extract the target analyte.
Figure 5: Effect of extraction time on 100µg/L PAH extraction efficiency by TIC plunger A (performed in triplicates)
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Results and Discussion
Optimization of TIC polymer-coated plunger Extraction time The effect of extraction time on the extraction efficiency was investigated. Since SPME is an equilibrium-dependent extraction procedure, the amount of analyte extracted depends on the rate of the mass transfer process at the interface of the aqueous phase and the polymeric phase which is consequently affected by the extraction time (Basheer et al., 2004)16. Figure 5 shows the effect of different extraction time on the extraction efficiency of 2 TIC-polymer-coated plungers. The peak area corresponds to the amount of PAHs extracted. The more efficient the technique was at extracting a particular PAH, the larger would be the peak area. The extraction profile shows a decrease in the amount of PAHs extracted with increase from 45 to 90 minutes of extraction time. AcPt, Ace and Flu could not be detected. This may be due to back equilibrium of the analytes from the analytesenriched polymer-coated plunger back into the water sample. It was also observed that the results were not reproducible from the results obtained from polymercoated plungers A and B (Figure 5). Since polymer-coated plunger A has higher extraction efficiency, especially on the 2 and 3 ringed PAHs, it was used for optimization of direct SPME and HS-SPME as well as desorption temperatures. Direct SPME and HS-SPME The possibility of sampling the headspace over the water sample instead of directly immersing the fibre in the water was also evaluated in triplicates. In these experiments, the volume of water was 5ml and the headspace volume was 3ml. The initial concentration of PAHs in water was 100µg/L. Figure 6 compares the FID responses of PAHs with direct SPME and HS-SPME using TIC-polymer-coated plunger A. HS-SPME was shown to be more effective extraction of Nap, AcPt, Ace and Flu. However, the increase is insignificant (p>0.05). Therefore, HS-SPME conducted at 60ºC did not improve the plunger’s extraction efficiency. Effect of desorption temperature Higher desorption temperature can reduce desorption time and carry-over, but thermal degradation of the polymer limits elevation of the desorption temperature. The effect of desorption temperature on the extraction efficiency was studied. It was observed that by desorbing the plunger at 220ºC, the extraction efficiency increased by an insignificant amount for each of the 8 PAHs analysed. Enrichment Factor The enrichment factors of the PAHs were determined by comparing the peak areas of the analytes after extraction from the ultrapure water spiked with a known concentration of PAHs with
Figure 6: Extraction efficiency of PAHs obtained by SPME and HS-SPME at 60ºC using TIC plunger A. The extraction time was 45 minutes
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Figure 7: Extraction efficiency of 100µg/L PAHs by TIC polymer-coatedplunger A at different desorption temperatures peak areas of the analytes prior to extraction from ultrapure water spiked with the same concentration of PAHs. The enrichment factor for each PAH was given by the ratio of the peak area after extraction to the peak area before extraction. The concentration of spiked PAHs in this evaluation was 100 µg/L. Table 1 summarizes enrichment factors of the PAHs. TIC polymer-coated plunger provided low extraction efficiencies and low enrichment factors of 4.99 to 16.9 times. PDMS, 85µm PA, 65µm PDMS/DVB, and 50/30µm PDMS/DVB/CAR) were compared with the TIC polymer-coated plunger for efficiently determining PAHs from the aqueous phase. The extraction time was 45 minutes. PAHs with different chemical characteristics showed different extraction behaviours (Figure 8). Due to the different physicochemical properties, PAHs display different sorption behaviours in the polymeric organic phases as well as in the environmental media. Although PA 85µm and PDMS 100µm were recommended as the most appropriate fibre coatings for the study of PAH in various matrices3,17,18, some new complex-polymer SPME fibres, such as PDMS/ DVB 65µm and PDMS/DVB/CAR 50/30µm, have been developed and shown to have the highest Peak Area before Extraction 0.060 0.080 0.070 0.116 0.161 0.140 0331 0.377 Enrichment Factor 4.99 10.2 9.01 12.2 12.3 14.5 16.9 16.0
Fibre selection Four commercially available SPME fibres (100µm PAHs Nap AcPt Ace Flu Phe Ant Flt Py Peak Area after Extraction 0.299 0.814 0.631 1.412 1.980 2.024 5.590 6.039
Table 1: Enrichment factors of PAHs after extraction with TIC polymer-coatedplunger A
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Figure 8: The comparison of extraction efficiency of 8 PAHs between 4 different SPME fibres and the TIC polymer-coatedplunger. Aqueous solution (100µg/L) was extracted in an extraction time of 45 minutes at room temperature under magnetic stirring. affinities for the selected PAHs, as shown in Figure 8. This indicates that the extraction efficiency of fibre for PAHs depends on the relative polarity of coating polymer and fused-benzene rings. The relatively polar fibres (PA, PDMS/DVB and PDMS/DVB/CAR) were shown to have higher affinities for low-ring PAHs, which were consistent with the results observed in the literature.3 As expected, there is also a trend that high molecular weight PAHs were increasingly partitioned into more non-polar coating fibres (PDMS). In our study, among all fibres, the PDMS/ DVB/CAR fibre proved to be the most effective for the extraction of PAHs, since the fibre coating is composed of two adsorbents, DVB (a porous solid) and Carboxen (a porous carbon). This increases the available surface area for extraction and enhances the extraction efficiency of analytes. Carboxen and DVB microspheres are immobilized onto the fibre using PDMS. Its effectiveness may also be due to the π – π interaction of PAHs with the phenyl group of PDMS/DVB/CAR coating. With this coating that is specifically designed for volatile compounds,19 the interaction is practically determined by adsorption on the synthetic materials. The porous carbon adsorbent (Carboxen) is likely to contribute towards the efficient extraction of PAHs. The novel TIC polymer-coated plungers showed poor extraction results in this study. This may be attributed to the polymer’s slight polarity and hence it is not effective in extracting the non-polar PAHs. However, there is a trend suggesting that high molecular weight PAHs are increasingly partitioned into the polymer and this is probably due to better π-stacking abilities with the polymer.15 Even so, the extraction capabilities were poor and may be attributed to the following 5 reasons: 1. Since SPME is an equilibrium extraction method, the time taken to equilibrate determines the maximum amount of analyte that can be extracted by the polymer-coated plunger which controls the sensitivity of the method. 2. The effect of volatility of PAHs and HS-SPME could have played contributory roles. 3. Uncontrolled coating thickness of TIC polymer on plunger 4. Friction from injection needle resulting in wearing out of polymer coating 5. High %R.S.D showing that results are not reproducible
Repeatability of TIC polymer-coated plunger device
The reproducibility studies were evaluated by doing triplicate analysis of ultrapure water spiked with 100µg/L of PAH mixture. The percentage relative standard deviation (%R.S.D) was drastically high and in the range of 15.6 to 102.2%. Looking at the values for all experiments involving TIC polymercoatedplunger, it is clear that the %R.S.D fluctuates
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PAHs Nap AcPt Ace Flu Phe Ant Flt Py DI-SPME R.S.D (%, n=3) 41.63 61.15 54.91 70.27 82.63 79.60 90.83 90.25 HS-SPME R.S.D (%, n=3) 102.2 15.61 84.91 29.66 26.76 28.87 34.13 36.68
Table 2: % R.S.D for DI-SPME and HS-SPME for extraction using TIC polymer-coatedplunger A Linearity range (µg/L) 20 - 100.00 20 - 100.00 20 - 100.00 20 - 100.00 20 - 100.00 20 - 100.00 20 - 100.00 20 - 100.00 Correlation Coefficient (r) 0.9907 0.9919 0.9909 0.9927 0.9992 0.9988 0.9966 0.9957 R.S.D (%,n=5) 3.22 2.60 2.49 3.64 5.01 5.44 4.63 4.83 LOD (S/N =3) (µg/L) 0.510 0.480 0.630 0.390 1.215 2.100 2.925 2.995 LOQ (S/N = 10) (µg/L) 1.70 1.60 2.10 1.30 4.05 7.00 9.75 9.85
PAHs Nap AcPt Ace Flu Phe Ant Flt Py
Table 3: Linearity, limits of detection and quantitation and repeatability of PDMS/DVB/CAR fibre greatly and in an unacceptable range (Table 2). This suggests that the coating was not properly prepared and hence the method is not precise and consequently irreproducible.
Quantitative analysis - linearity, detection limits and repeatability
In order to test the suitability of the method for quantitative determination of PAHs in water samples, different concentrations of standard PAHs spiked in water were used for calibration after being subjected to the complete overall treatment procedure (i.e. direct SPME and thermal desorption from the fibre into the chromatographic system). The linearity of the method was tested with GC-FID by extracting aqueous standards, with increasing concentrations, over a range between 20 and 100µg/L. Table 3 illustrates the linearity and detection limits of PAHs with 50/30µm PDMS/DVB/CAR fibre. The direct SPME procedure showed good linearity in the tested range with correlation coefficients ranging between 0.9907 and 0.9992. Thus, using an external calibration plot we can quantify PAH levels. The LODs were determined based on S/N ratios of 3 and were calculated by decreasing the analyte concentration in spiked sample such that the GCFID signals were distinctly discerned at S/N of 3 at the final lowest concentration. The LODs obtained were in the range of 0.390 – 2.995µg/L. The LOQ was also calculated and listed in Table 3. The precision of this method/repeatability studies was evaluated by
Feasibility of TIC polymer-coatedplunger at this stage
The extraction efficiency of SPME was not improved for PAHs when using a TIC polymer-coatedplunger compared to commercial fibres. Therefore we decided to use commercial fibres for further studies. A more extensive investigation regarding optimal polymer coating geometries, thermal treatments, and GC inlet temperatures for specific polymers and target compounds is the subject of future work.
Selected fibre for quantitative analysis of PAHs
Considering the detection sensitivity of all PAHs, the PDMS/DVB/CAR fibre was chosen for quantitative analysis of PAHs.
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Figure 9: Plan and magnified photographs of the sites where water samples were obtained Source : Sungei Ulu Pandan Water Quality Monitoring doing quintuplicate (n=5) analyses of ultrapure water spiked with 80µg/L of PAH mixture. The %R.S.Ds were in the range of 2.49 to 5.44%, which should be satisfactory for determining the PAHs in water matrix. The chromatogram of an extract using PDMS/DVB/ CAR fibre from real sample is shown in Figure 10. Peaks appearing in chromatogram were also confirmed and summarized in Table 4. It can be seen that only Nap, Flu and Py were found in the upstream canal water (P1, Figure 9) and additional flu was found as well in the downstream canal water (P2, Figure 9). Anthropogenic activities could be the source of emission of PAHs into the canal. Some sources of Py include incomplete combustion process such as occurring in exhaust from motor vehicles and emissions from cigarette smoke (from the nearby residential estate, which has many drains leading
Real Sample Analysis
In order to examine the suitability of the method as well as the PDMS/DVB/CAR fibre (which provided the best extraction efficiencies for PAHs) for quantitative determination of PAHs in real sample, canal water from Ulu Pandan Canal at locations P1 and P2 leading to Ulu Pandan Reservoir (Figure 9) was collected and analyzed by the proposed method.
FID1 A, (CMSK\28 SEP GREY SPME REAL SAMPLE AUG1(2).D) pA
2.707 2.993 3.119 11.011 13.006 9.570 14.379 14.495 2.185 6.390 6.870 16.138 7.977 17.423 4.033 17.970
Figure 10: GC-FID chromatogram of an extract using PDMS/DVB/CAR SPME from real sample taken at Ulu Pandan Canal upstream (P1)
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Concentration (µgL-1) (n=3) Ulu Pandan Canal: Upstream (P1) 0.2673 a a a a a 0.6065 0.645
Nap AcPt Ace Flu Phe Ant Flt Py
Ulu Pandan Canal: Downstream (P2) 0.2528 a a 0.4622 a a 0.9794 1.009
Table 4: Concentrations of PAHs extracted from Ulu Pandan Canal after analysis using 50/30µm PDMS/ DVB/CAR Relative Recovery (%) Nap AcPt Ace Flu Phe Ant Flt Py 106.9 108.2 108.5 106.9 103.5 103.5 102.0 99.90 R.S.D (%, n=3) 4.0 10.3 9.8 4.9 7.2 10.1 8.9 8.0
Table 5: Relative recoveries and % R.S.D for canal water analysis (performed in triplicates, spiked at a concentration of 40 µg/L) to the canal). Flu is prevalent in sprawl and urban areas due to road runoff and human waste.20 Lastly, Nap, the most commonly detected PAH, is a natural constituent of coal tar (approximately 11%) and it is present in gasoline and diesel fuels.21-24 Concentrations of PAHs extracted from various canal water samples using 50/30µm PDMS/DVB/CAR are given in Table 4. Based on Table 4, the data may not be representative of the real concentration of canal water due to the limited number of analyses performed. Therefore, it is recommended that more analyses should be conducted to make a conclusive study. Nevertheless, these results prove that this SPME fibre and method can be implemented for real sample analysis. spiked canal samples. Prior to analysis, all the samples were filtered with 0.22µm of glass microfibre filter before extraction was performed. The results from spiked real water samples were then compared with those obtained from a spiked ultrapure water of the same concentration. The canal water samples were spiked at a concentration of 40µg/L to evaluate the relative recoveries of this extraction technique (Figure 11). Extraction recoveries for the analytes are shown in the following table. The relative recoveries and %R.S.D obtained were observed to be good; 99.9 -108.5% and 4.0 - 10.3% respectively. The relative recoveries showed that the canal water sample matrix had little effect on this technique and hence the matrix is a suitable method for the analysis of complex water samples. An example of the GC-FID chromatogram of an extract using PDMS/DVB/CAR fibre from spiked canal water at 40µg/L of PAHs is shown in Figure 11.
SPME recovery of PAHs
To confirm the applicability of the SPME method to extract PAHs from real water samples, the analysis of extraction recoveries was carried out by using
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Figure 11: GC-FID chromatogram of an extract using PDMS/DVB/CAR-SPME from spiked canal water at 40µg/L of PAHs
In this study, the commercial fibres proved to be more efficient than the TIC polymer-coatedplungers. With this plunger-in-needle extraction technique, fragility is less of a concern due to the practical aspects of a stable steel needle and plunger compared to those of a fragile commercial fibre. However, results showed that due to the inconsistent coating and friction between the plunger and needle, this method is not yet able to provide reproducible and reliable results. The idea of an in-house preparation of such a device is attractive, however, and should be further explored with more suitable coatings. The PDMS/DVB/CAR fibre, which is less explored in PAH extractions, proved to be the fibre with best extraction efficiency, reliable for analysis and quantifying the amount of PAHs in water. The combination of SPME with GC-FID exhibits good linear response and reproducibility over a given concentration range and is able to give low detection limits. Also, determination of PAHs in water matrix using PDMS/DVB/CAR fibre by the direct-SPME with GC-FID system has been described. Matrix effects were observed when analyzing various samples. Some PAHs were detected in the real samples analyzed with this fibre. This developed procedure demonstrated its suitability for the analysis of PAHs in real samples. Results from suitability tests indicate the proposed method is a simple, rapid and convenient for isolation of PAHs from complicated water matrix before GC-
One of the limitations for the TIC polymercoated plunger is its inconsistent coating of polymer on plunger which resulted in poor precision and reproducibility. Friction between the coated plunger and needle also resulted in the wearing out of polymer and poor reproducibility of results. Therefore, the TIC polymer coating procedure requires further exploration and improvement to increase its extraction efficiency. Another limitation is the lack of time to further optimize parameters such as ionic strength, stirring rate, extraction and desorption times and temperatures to achieve the best extraction efficiency for TIC polymer-coated plunger.
A more extensive investigation regarding the optimization of the TIC polymer coating geometries, thermal treatments, number of cyclic voltammetry cycles as well as other target compounds is the subject of future work. More studies can also be done on optimizing experimental conditions for TIC polymercoated plunger-in-needle extraction.
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I would like to take this opportunity to thank Prof. H. K. Lee for giving me an opportunity to embark on this research project. This project would not have been possible without the invaluable assistance and advice from Dr. C. Basheer throughout the course of my research. I would also like to extend my gratitude to Mr. B. Ganapathy for preparing the TIC polymer-coated plungers and to Dr. Liu Qiping and Mdm. Frances Lim for their technical support in various analytical instruments used. I would also like to express my appreciation to the other members of our research group for their assistance and guidance, especially Ms. Tan Sok Kiang, Ms. Lee Jingyi Natalie and Mr. Nyi Nyi Naing.
16 S. Thiadiazole fused indolo[2,3-a]carbazole based oligomers and polymer. Org Lett 11, 4450-4453 (2009). Basheer, C., Suresh, V., Renu, R. & Lee, H. K. Development and application of polymer-coated hollow fiber membrane microextraction to the determination of organochlorine pesticides in water. J Chromatogr A 1033, 213-220 (2004). Djozan, D., Assadi, Y. Monitoring of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in water using headspace solid-phase microextraction and capillary gas chromatography Microchemical Journal 63, 276-284 (1999). Waidyanatha, S., Zheng, Y. & Rappaport, S. M. Determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in urine of coke oven workers by headspace solid phase microextraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Chem Biol Interact 145, 165-174 (2003). Wercinski, S. A. S., J. Pawliszyn. . SPME Theory. 1-24 (Marcel Dekker, Inc., 1999). National Academy of Sciences (Government Printing Office) (Washington, D.C. , 1972). HSDB. Hazardous Substances Data Bank, <www.sis.nlm. nih.gov> (1999). Kurz, J. M. Naphthalene poisoning: critical care nursing techniques. Dimens Crit Care Nurs 6, 264-270 (1987). Navarro, H. Developmental toxicity evaluation of naphthalene administered by gavage to Sprague-Dawley rats on gestational days 6 through 15. Research Triangle Institute. Research Triangle Park, NC: National Toxicology Program. (1991). CARB. Air toxics emissions data collected in the Air Toxics Hot Spots Program. (1999)
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1 2 3 Manoli, E. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in natural waters: sources, occurrence and analysis TrAC Trends in Analytical Chemistry 18, 417-428 (1999). Doong, R. A. & Lee, C. Y. Determination of organochlorine pesticide residues in foods using solid-phase extraction clean-up cartridges. Analyst 124, 1287-1289 (1999). Doong, R., Chang, S. & Sun, Y. Solid-phase microextraction and headspace solid-phase microextraction for the determination of high molecular-weight polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in water and soil samples. J Chromatogr Sci 38, 528-534 (2000). Potter, D. W. Rapid determination of polyaromatic hydrocarbons and polychlorinated biphenyls in water using solid-phase microextraction and GC/MS. Environmental Science and Technology 28, 298-305 (1994). Magdic, S. & Pawliszyn, J. B. Analysis of organochlorine pesticides using solid-phase microextraction. J Chromatogr A 723, 111-122 (1996). Barnabas, I. J. Determination of phenols by solid-phase microextraction. Journal of chromatographic analysis 705, 305 (1995). Pawliszwyn, J. Solid Phase Microextraction, Theory and Practice. chapters 3, 4 and 6 (Wiley-VCH, 1997). Zhang, Z., Pawliszyn, J. Headspace solid-phase microextraction Analytical Chemistry 65, 1843-1852 (1993). Zhang, Z., Yang, M.J., Pawliszyn, J. Solid-phase microextraction. Analytical Chemistry 66, 843A-855A (1994). King, A. J., Readman, J.W., Zhou, J.L. Determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in water by solid-phase microextraction-gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. Analytica Chimica Acta 523, 259-267 (2004). Havenga, W. J. & Rohwer, E. R. Chemical characterization and screening of hydrocarbon pollution in industrial soils by headspace solid-phase microextraction. J Chromatogr A 848, 279-295 (1999). Popp, P., Bauer, C., Hauser, B., Keil, P., Wennrich, L. Extraction of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and organochloride compounds from water: A comparison between solid-phase microextraction and stir bar sorptive extraction Journal of Separation Science 26, 961-967 (2003). Cam, D., Gagni, S., Lombardi, N. & Punin, M. O. Solidphase microextraction and gas chromatography-mass spectrometry for the determination of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in environmental solid matrices. J Chromatogr Sci 42, 329-335 (2004). Martin, D. & Ruiz, J. Analysis of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in solid matrixes by solid-phase microextraction coupled to a direct extraction device. Talanta 71, 751-757 (2007). Balaji, G., Shim, W. L., Parameswaran, M. & Valiyaveettil,
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Clara Mou is a fourth-year undergraduate at NUS majoring in Chemistry. She is also enrolled in the University Scholars Programme and interned at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology during the summer of 2010. This research paper was written for an Independent Study Module supervised by Prof. Lee Hian Kee.
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The Etiology Of Metabolic Syndrome, Its Progression To Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus And The Alleviating Effects Of Exercise
The metabolic syndrome is one of the most widespread conditions of our time, yet much of it remains to be elucidated. What then are some of the diagnostic features of this syndrome, the possible causes and ways to help mitigate its effects?
Kishan Kumar Singh
The Features of Metabolic Syndrome
Obesity MS is generally associated with increasing magnitude of obesity.1 For the purpose of categorization and treatment, the degree of obesity has been divided into 2 main groups: “overweight”, with Body Mass Index (BMI) of 25-29.9, and “obese”, with BMI > 30.2. It is important to note these figures are typical for the American population; for Asian populations, the World Health Organization (WHO) BMI criteria has indicated “overweight” to be a value of > 23 while it is up to each Asian nation to decide the value for the “obese” group. It is also important to understand that this association, though well established, is not a strong one, suggesting that obesity is a facilitating variable rather than a direct causal one.1 Body obesity, comprising visceral and central obesity, is shown to be associated with increased incidence of various other features of MS including dyslipidemia and insulin resistance (IR) that could possibly play a much larger causal role in MS.3 Nonetheless, the role of obesity in the etiology of MS is supported further by the prevention of MS through the prevention of obesity.1 This will be discussed further in later sections of this paper. IR, Hyperinsulinemia and T2D The most often suggested causal feature of MS is IR accompanied by hyperinsulinemia. IR was first defined by Himsworth in 1936 as a less than normal response to insulin by cells, tissues or the entire body system.4 Whether IR causes hyperinsulinemia or viceversa is not clearly understood yet because of their very close association. Many components of the insulin signalling pathway have been implicated in disrupting insulin action resulting in IR and hyperinsulinemia, believed to lead to MS. However, none are found to be causal.1 T2D is a possible result of MS. The natural history of diabetes in both humans and primates include a series of progressive phases. All the features of MS are associated with the earliest phases of the development of T2D, with obesity and IR having the strongest association.5 Dyslipidemia Many aspects of dyslipidemia have been suggested as criteria for MS but most usually, hypertriglyceridemia and low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels are the two used. These two factors are closely associated with each other. Hypertriglyceridemia is defined as a fasting triglyceride level of more than 2.3 mmol/l while low high-density lipoproteins (HDLs) have been defined as less than 0.9 mmol/l.6 It should, once again, be understood that variables are continuums and these limits are only to facilitate comparison and treatment.
MS has been described as one of the most prevalent disorders of mankind this new millennium.1 A conservative estimate made in the United States. alone approximated that by 2010 some 50-75 million adults will suffer from MS.1 Because the criteria for MS essential for diagnosis have not been agreed upon internationally, it is difficult to define its worldwide prevalence. However, an estimate might be derived from considering Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus (T2D) as one of the features of MS. In 1997, 124 million persons worldwide were estimated to suffer from diabetes, 97% with T2D. By 2010, these numbers will bloom to 221 million, with greatest increase in Asia and Africa.1 These figures only consider one of the features of MS. If we consider other features, Hansen expects the worldwide prevalence of MS to reach nearly half a billion.1 Despite the staggering statistics, MS is also most likely to be designated as one of the more preventable disorders of man, provided the right tools are available.1 As a result, proper understanding of the disease pathophysiology is vital for combating this syndrome. This paper will discuss the etiology of MS, focusing mainly on IR and hyperinsulinemia, and its progression to T2D. The effects exercise hasveon glucose uptake will be explored as a form of prevention and control of MS and T2D. Towards the end, this paper also briefly discusses pharmacological approaches to combat IR, control and possibly even delay the onset of T2D.
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Hypertension Ninety-one percent of those suffering from hypertension have at least one other feature of MS. Nonetheless, hypertension is the least consistently associated factor with MS compared with the previous3 other features discussed above.7 The WHO consultation group on diabetes suggested a raised arterial pressure of more than 160/90 mmHg as the criterion for this component of MS.6 Hypertension, coupled with obesity and diabetes, is linked to coronary heart disease and cardiovascular diseases are linked to MS. now normotensive meets the blood pressure criterion, nor is it specified how blood pressure should be measured; whether in the supine, sitting or the average of the two measurements.10 These ambiguities have affected the sensitivity and specificity of the diagnosis and have undoubtedly led to false-positive and falsenegative results. While some of the criteria have sexspecific cut points, there is no evidence to support a need for sex-specific cut points as they relate to cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk. It is, for example, not known whether the same intra-abdominal fat mass carries a different risk in men than in women.10 An analogous argument can be made regarding whether cut points should vary according to race and ethnic groups; a study conducted by Meigs et al. to determine the prevalence of MS in a population of non-Hispanic whites and Mexican-American subjects showed that when using the WHO definition, more Mexican-American men were classified as having the syndrome, while the ATP III criteria classified more Mexican-American women.11 Depending on the sex and ethnicity of the populations, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome varied up to 24% between the two definitions.11 Clearly there is a need for international consensus. Internationally agreed criteria would not only eliminate the various ambiguities but would also benefit the patients in getting proper treatment. It is recognized that the features of MS can be present for up to 10 years before the development and detection of T2D. As a result, the detection of MS is important to the etiology of hyperglycemia, which is related to T2Dt and CVDs. Detection of MS therefore identifies subjects with a high risk of developing T2D and cardiovascular diseases and allows for proper preventive measures to be undertaken, curbing the possible development of these diseases.1 However as already discussed in the previous section, the definition of MS and its features are not ATP III8 ≥102 cm in men ≥88 cm in women Same as WHO <40 mg/dL in men;<50 mg/dL in women ≥130/85 mm Hg Fasting >110 mg/dL No AHA9 Same as ATP III Same as WHO Same as ATP III Same as ATP III Fasting ≥100 mg/dL No
Defining the Metabolic Syndrome and Its Significance as a Diagnostic Tool
Defining the MS is still a work in progress. As described briefly above, the definition of MS has gone through various changes since the 1950s. Even today, there exist differing criteria for the clinical diagnosis of MS among the WHO, Adult Treatment Panel III (ATP III) and American Heart Association (AHA) (Table 1). Despite the attempts by a range of national and international organizations to properly define MS, there has been much critique. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) argues that there is no solid scientific evidence to show that the collective effects of the features that make up MS contribute more than the individual features themselves. According to ADA, the science needs to be clearer before branding MS as a syndrome.10 The definitions of MS (Table 1) also raise some issues. Some of the criteria used for defining MS are ambiguous or incomplete. For example, it is not defined whether a patient with hypertension who is Clinical Measure Waist Circumference BMI Triglycerides HDL-C Blood Pressure Glucose Insulin Resistance WHO6 ≥30 kg/m2 150 mg/dL <35 mg/dL in men; <39 mg/dL in women ≥160/90 mm Hg IGT, IFG, or T2D Yes
Table 1: Summary of the criteria for the clinical diagnosis of MS
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universally agreed upon. Consequently, there may be differing results using different criteria. An example of the prevalence of MS amongst Mexican-American women was already given in the previous section to illustrate this. Another example illustrating the need for a worldwide definition, especially when it boils down to using MS as a diagnostic tool, involves two studies in predicting the risk of CVD; one study was conducted in San Antonio and the other amongst Finnish men. The ATP III criterion was superior to the WHO in the San Antonio study in predicting CVD while the WHO criterion gave a better prediction amongst Finnish men.12 The search for a global criteria is an uphill task due to the many confounding factors and the lack of proper understanding with regards to the etiology of this syndrome. Nonetheless, there have been steps taken to try and rectify this problem. The International Diabetes Federation (IDF) felt there was a strong need for a single practical definition that would be useful in any country for the identification of people at high risk of CVD and diabetes. Their recommendations are now available.13 For the sake of consistency, this paper will adopt the WHO criteria for clinical diagnosis of MS. to an intrinsic impairment in the ability of cells to respond to insulin with an increased rate of glucose uptake. Any of the components of the cellular signalling pathway whereby insulin triggers an increase in glucose transport could be implicated in IR. However, in non-diabetic individuals, impaired tyrosine kinase activity of the insulin receptor has been a consistent finding in most studies of insulin resistant subjects.15 This reduced activity is most likely inherited though several biochemical defects observed in insulin resistant patients, which may explain insulin resistance in some individuals.16 When insulin activates the insulin receptor, the β-subunit of the receptor is autophosphorylated at three sites i.e., the juxtamembrane domain, the tyrosine kinase domain and the C-terminal domain. Subsequently, endogenous substrates are tyrosine phosphorylated. These phosphorylated substrates act as docking molecules to activate Src Homology Domain 2 (SH2) domain molecules including Growth Factor Receptorbound Protein 2 (GRB-2), which activates various pathways including the Ras pathway, the p85 subunit of PI-3-kinase, the serine-threonine kinase Akt, also known as Protein Kinase B (PKB), involved in glucose transport, and others.16 As a result, the down regulation of tyrosine kinase can affect the transport of glucose into the cell (Figure 1). Recent studies indicate that increased expression of membrane glycoprotein PC-1 decreases insulin receptor signalling, making PC-1 an important candidate as a major cause of IR. Two reasons are put forth to suggest that PC-1 plays a role in the etiology of insulin resistance. PC-1 is elevated in fibroblasts, muscle, and fat of patients with insulin
The Etiology of Metabolic Syndrome
IR and Hyperinsulinemia The most often suggested causal feature of MS is IR accompanied by hyperinsulinemia.14 The development of IR, measured most commonly by the euglycemic hyperinsulinemic clamp, is due
Figure 1: Mechanism for post insulin receptor signalling16
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resistance both with and without Type 2 diabetes. In addition, transfection and overexpression of PC-1 in cultured cells reduce insulin receptor tyrosine kinase activity. The physiological function of PC-1 is unknown although there are some theories about this glycoprotein. One theory proposes that PC-1 may belong to an enzyme cascade system working in concert with other ectoenzymes that hydrolyze nucleotides and nucleic acids to nucleosides, which are then taken up by cells via a nucleoside transporter.17 This pathway would allow for the salvage of nucleotides from the extracellular fluid and the uptake and recycling of nucleosides by cells that are unable to synthesize purines through the de novo pathway. The reasons for over-expression of PC-1 in insulin resistant subjects are as yet not known as well. In addition, the normal physiological regulation of PC-1 gene expression is also not fully understood. PC-1 expression is controlled by a putative mRNA stabilizing protein.18 However, whether the mechanisms responsible for overexpression of PC-1 in some individuals result from alterations in the promoter region or in regulators of the promoter is unknown. As insulin sensitivity drops due to IR, the β-cells of the pancreas have to increase in insulin production activity to compensate.19 This increased activity of the β-cells results in a high plasma insulin concentration or hyperinsulinemia. Excessive circulating insulin appears to be a contributor to IR by the down regulation of insulin receptors. This is due to desensitization of the receptors to prolonged and repeated elevations of circulating insulin. Even though this is not the typical cause of IR, it is evident how hyperinsulinemia resulting from IR can further exacerbate the situation. As the situation exacerbates and the sensitivity of insulin drops further, there is a higher likelihood for developing T2D. Therefore, MS increases the chances for developing T2D because of reduced insulin sensitivity. Other Factors Studies carried out have extended the cause of MS from IR and hyperinsulinemia to include hyperleptinemia and leptin insensitivity, which are generally associated with obesity.19 Low leptin concentrations or leptin resistance result in an increased production of neuropeptide Y, which stimulates appetite and promotes insulin secretion.20 As a result, constantly low plasma leptin levels will result in hyperinsulinemia. Even though plasma leptin levels are associated with a number of features of the MS, including BMI, fasting insulin, insulin sensitivity and triglyceride concentration, some scientists argue that the likelihood of a causal relationship remains low.21 Another serious candidate that may play an important role in MS development via insulin resistance is acylation stimulating protein (ASP). The ASP pathway is involved in fatty acid metabolism and storage.22 It is suggested that ineffective storage of fatty acids by adipocytes due to a defective ASP pathway may lead to insulin resistance and obesity.23 ASP pathway can influence the risk of MS by increasing glucose uptake by stimulating the translocation of glucose transporters to the cell’s surface, similar to insulin, and by regulating the rate or triglyceride synthesis and storage within the adipocytes.22 As a result, mutations along this pathway can contribute to a number of features of MS including glucose intolerance, IR and obesity. Because leptin is synthesized in the adipocytes, the ASP pathway can also have an effect on the production of this hormone and its consequent metabolic effects.22 The role that genes play in the development MS cannot be overlooked. However, their exact role, including their effects and their interactions with other factors such as other proteins and with the environment are not fully understood. Despite the obscure role of genetics, new evidence for the genetic basis of MS is emerging. For example, the Cd36 gene has been implicated in hypertension and defective carbohydrate and lipid metabolism.23 However, it is unlikely that one single gene will contribute greatly to the MS and is more likely that a large number of genes will be found to collectively contribute to both the development and the severity of the MS.
The Effects of Exercise on Insulin Sensitivity and Glucose Tolerance
Exercise is a very important tool in combating T2D. The favourable effects of exercise training in stabilizing the glycemic control and IR are widely established.24 Exercise increases the rate of glucose uptake by skeletal muscle cells through enhanced glucose delivery to the muscle cells, glucose transport through the cell surface membrane, and glucose flux through intracellular metabolism.25 According to a study, a single bout of moderate exercise on an upright cycle ergometer increased glucose uptake in T2D patients by 216.7% within 15 minutes into exercise and lasted for at least 15 minutes after the cessation of activity.26 This increase in glucose uptake was measured using the euglycemic hyperinsulinemic clamp procedure. All three factors to regulate glucose uptake by skeletal muscles described earlier in this paragraph were involved in this increase. According to the study, exercise increases muscle blood flow 10 fold. This increase in blood flow is brought about by vasodilation due to increased metabolic CO2 produced because of increased activity. The increased CO2 results in decreasing pH levels in blood which, when detected by chemoreceptors, cause vasodilation. This increased blood flow to exercising muscles would indicate an increase in the rate of glucose transport to these muscles. Exercise also
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results in an increase in GLUT-4 receptors on the cell’s surface by at least a factor of 2.27 This increased number of glucose transporters allow for the glucose that has been transported to the cells to enter the cells and take part in respiration. This increase in GLUT-4 receptors can be explained by the fact that translocation of glucose into the cells by GLUT-4 takes place by 2 mechanisms, one of which is the well known insulin-dependent pathway. The other mechanism is independent of insulin. The contraction of skeletal muscles during exercise results in a deformity of the skeletal muscle cell structure. This contraction of skeletal muscle and the subsequent deformity is a key signal to stimulate the AMP (Adenosine Monophosphate)-activated protein kinase (AMPK) which induces GLUT-4 translocation.28 Experimentally, short duration of electrical muscle stimulation (EMS), which brings about the same contraction and deformation in skeletal muscle cells as exercise, facilitates GLUT-4 translocation.29 It has also been hypothesized that protein TBC1 domain family member 4 (TBC14) might be involved in non-insulin dependent activation of GLUT-4.30 TBC1D4 may serve as a point of convergence for insulin-dependent and insulin-independent signalling pathways regulating glucose transport in skeletal muscle. The intracellular signals emanating from the contracting muscle during exercise may interact with the insulin signalling pathway at the TBC1D4 level, thereby mediating enhanced glucose uptake in previously exercised muscle.31 There is also a distinction to be made between aerobic interval training (AIT) and continuous moderate exercise (CME) in their effects on MS. In a 16-week pilot study aimed at testing the efficacy of these two distinctly different modes of exercise, 32 subjects with MS as defined by WHO were stratified into 3 groups performing different forms of exercise: AIT, CME and a control group. Blood insulin levels, fasting glucose levels, insulin sensitivity, β-cell function and blood HDL and triglyceride levels were measured before and after the test duration. The study showed that AIT reduced more of the factor of MS compared to CME, including IR. Insulin resulted in a substantial increase in receptor phosphorylation, and hence activation, in skeletal muscles after AIT compared to CME.31 However, the exact reason behind this biased increase is still unknown. Aerobic training also results in an increased capilarisation of the muscles while resistance training results in an increased fibre size, with minimal increased capilarisation.32 The increased capilarisation in aerobic training allows for an increased transport and spread of glucose to the skeletal muscle cells. Conversely, in resistance training, as fibre diameter increases, the muscle capillaries actually get pushed apart from one another, a situation described as capillary dilution.32 The capillary density therefore gets reduced and this reduces efficient blood transport to the muscles compared to aerobic training. Aerobic training is preferred for an increase in glucose transport efficiency to the muscles. Nonetheless, both aerobic and resistance training are known to result in improved PKB production. PKB, as discussed earlier and as depicted in Fig 1, is a potential downstream mediator of the insulin signalling pathway, involved mainly in glucose uptake into the cells.32
While exercise does remain the best option in combating IR and delaying the onset and controlling T2D, anti-diabetic drugs are available to treat these conditions and even delay the onset of T2D. Two of the more common oral anti-diabetic drugs already available include rosiglitazone and metformin. Rosiglitazone belongs to the thiazolidinedione (TZD) class of anti-diabetic drugs. This class of drugs act as peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ) agonists. These receptors, found on adipose tissues, skeletal muscles and in the liver, in turn control the transcription of insulin-responsive genes involved in the control of glucose metabolism and transport. Animal models have shown that rosiglitazone increases sensitivity to insulin action in the adipose tissues, skeletal muscles and liver. Together with this decrease in insulin resistance, rosiglitazone inhibits hepatic gluconeogenesis, which also contributes to alleviating hyperglycemia. These pharmacological studies have also shown an increase in insulindependent glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT 4) translocation, no doubt due to the increase in insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, the pharmacokinetics of rosiglitazone is not drastically affected by age, gender and even race, increasing its accessibility.33 However, rosiglitazone has been associated with over 300 deaths from heart attacks and heart failures. As a result, its ability to do more good than harm has been fiercely debated. Even though it is still administered, the US FDA is still researching its effects.33 Another commonly used drug in the treatment of both T2D and IR is metformin. Like rosiglitazone, it lowers the rate of liver gluconeogenesis, decreasing the concentration of blood glucose levels. It does this by preventing the uptake of lactate by the liver, which is used for glucose production in gluconeogenesis. Because of this, metformin may lead to an accumulation of lactate, especially if kidney function is impaired. This in turn leads to lactic acidosis, a condition where the blood pH levels are low and there is a high concentration of lactate in the blood. If untreated, this serious condition may eventually lead to coma and death.34 Unlike rosiglitazone however, the mode of action of this drug involves the activation of the adenosine monophosphate-activated protein kinase
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(AMPK) pathway. This kinase plays a vital role in energy homeostasis. Metformin, and the subsequent activation of the AMPK pathway, is particularly useful in combating IR caused by hyperinsulinemia because it ameliorates hyperglycemia without further increasing insulin levels, thus delaying the onset on T2D. It activates muscle AMPK which allows for the uptake of glucose via GLUT 4, independent of insulin. The fact that glucose transporter translocation does not involve insulin indicates that this provides an alternative to the possibly faulty PKB pathway in individuals displaying IR (Fig 1). Lastly, AMPK activation suppresses SREBP-1c, an important insulinstimulated transcription factor that is implicated in the pathogenesis of IR.34 The effect of metformin on the AMPK pathway has excellent potential for the treatment of IR. Research in drug design with mechanism of action similar to metformin is worth pursuing. Other novel ways of activating the AMPK pathway, including medication that increases the concentration of AMP, a precursor to the activation of AMPK, is another possibility. It is worth noting that exercise naturally improves the AMP: ATP ratio due to ATP hydrolyzation for energy and subsequent re-phosphorylation. Another potential area worth researching in the combat against IR is the expression of membrane glycoprotein PC-1 and its role in insulin resistance as mentioned in the previous sections. Because an increase in the expression of PC-1 results in a decrease in insulin receptor signalling, a regulation of its expression can potentially decrease insulin resistance. However, since the exact physiological function and expression of PC-1 and the reason for its overexpression is unknown, more information needs to be obtained to ensure that its regulation does not yield adverse effects. Regulation of the ASP pathway may also yield positive results in decreasing IR and the associated effects of hypertriglyceridemia and obesity. As indicated, the ASP pathway is involved in fatty acid metabolism and storage and can influence glucose uptake by translocation of glucose transporters. Upregulation of ASP is theoretically possible through the up-regulation of adipocytes complement C3, a precursor protein of ASP. Pharmacologically, glucocorticoids can be used to stimulate C3 production in obese individuals which will then drive the ASP pathway.35 However, a drawback of using glucocorticoids is its non-selectivity that results in a wide range of possible side effects. The key to overcoming this is in the research and production of selectively-acting glucocorticoids. Again, it is worth highlighting that exercise rapidly increased ASP levels by 67%.36
MS has become one of the major public-health challenges worldwide. There is a growing need to understand the etiology of this syndrome in hope of finding a way to combat MS. Unfortunately, MS does not seem to have one causal factor but is in fact made up of a variety of features, including obesity, IR and hyperinsulinemia. The need to understand MS is further exemplified by its use as a diagnostic tool, allowing for preventive measures to be undertaken as quickly as possible. This lowers the possibility of getting CVDs and T2D. The best course of action for those suffering from MS and IGT/T2D is exercise as it has been proven useful in improving insulin sensitivity and glucose uptake in skeletal muscle cells. Despite its 50-year history and progression, there is still a lot to be done with MS and the treatment of its various symptoms. With new evidence indicating genetics as the main cause of MS, it is necessary that treatment methods consider both genetic and environmental causes to obtain the best results.
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1 2 Hansen, B. C. The metabolic syndrome X. Ann N Y Acad Sci 892, 1-24 (1999). NIH-NHLBI. Clinical guidelines on the identification, evaluation, and treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. WMJ : official publication of the State Medical Society of Wisconsin 97, (1998). Bray, R. a. Overweight and the Metabolic Syndrome: From Bench to Bedside (Springer, 2006). Himsworth, H. P. Diabetes mellitus: its differentiation into insulin sensitive and insulin insensitive types. Lancet 1, 127130 (1936). Hansen, B. C. Obesity, diabetes, and insulin resistance: implications from molecular biology, epidemiology, and experimental studies in humans and animals. Synopsis of the American Diabetes Association’s 29th Research Symposium and Satellite Conference of the 7th International Congress on Obesity, Boston, Massachusetts. Diabetes Care 18, A2-9 (1995). Alberti, K. G. & Zimmet, P. Z. Definition, diagnosis and classification of diabetes mellitus and its complications. Part 1: diagnosis and classification of diabetes mellitus provisional report of a WHO consultation. Diabet Med 15, 539-553 (1998). Rantala, A. O. et al. Prevalence of the metabolic syndrome in drug-treated hypertensive patients and control subjects. J Intern Med 245, 163-174 (1999). Third Report of the National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) Expert Panel on Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Cholesterol in Adults (Adult Treatment Panel III) final report. Circulation 106, 31433421 (2002). Grundy, S. M. et al. Diagnosis and management of the metabolic syndrome: an American Heart Association/ National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Scientific Statement. Circulation 112, 2735-2752 (2005). Kahn, R., Buse, J., Ferrannini, E. & Stern, M. The metabolic syndrome: time for a critical appraisal: joint statement from the American Diabetes Association and the European Association for the Study of Diabetes. Diabetes Care 28, 2289-2304 (2005). Meigs, J. B. et al. Prevalence and characteristics of the metabolic syndrome in the San Antonio Heart and Framingham Offspring Studies. Diabetes 52, 2160-2167 (2003). Alberti, K. G., Zimmet, P. & Shaw, J. The metabolic syndrome--a new worldwide definition. Lancet 366, 10591062 (2005). Federation, I. D. The IDF consensus worldwide definition of the metabolic syndrome, <www.idf.org/webdata/docs/ Metac_syndrome_def.pdf> (accessed 10.06.2009). Zimmet, P., Boyko, E. J., Collier, G. R. & de Courten, M. Etiology of the metabolic syndrome: potential role of insulin resistance, leptin resistance, and other players. Ann N Y Acad Sci 892, 25-44 (1999). Goldfine, I. D., Maddux, B. A., Youngren, J. F., Trischitta, V. & Frittitta, L. Role of PC-1 in the etiology of insulin resistance. Ann N Y Acad Sci 892, 204-222 (1999). Kahn, C. R. & White, M. F. The insulin receptor and the molecular mechanism of insulin action. J Clin Invest 82, 1151-1156 (1988). Rebbe, N. F., Tong, B. D. & Hickman, S. Expression of nucleotide pyrophosphatase and alkaline phosphodiesterase I activities of PC-1, the murine plasma cell antigen. Mol Immunol 30, 87-93 (1993). Stefan, C., Stalmans, W. & Bollen, M. Growth-related expression of the ectonucleotide pyrophosphatase PC-1 in rat liver. Hepatology 28, 1497-1503 (1998). Porte, D., Jr. Mechanisms for hyperglycemia in the metabolic syndrome. The key role of beta-cell dysfunction. Ann N Y Acad Sci 892, 73-83 (1999). Considine, R. V. et al. Serum immunoreactive-leptin concentrations in normal-weight and obese humans. N Engl J Med 334, 292-295 (1996). Pi-Sunyer, F. X., Laferrere, B., Aronne, L. J. & Bray, G. A. Therapeutic controversy: Obesity--a modern-day epidemic. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 84, 3-12 (1999). Cianflone, K. Acylation stimulating protein and the adipocyte. J Endocrinol 155, 203-206 (1997). 23 Pravenec, M. et al. Genetics of Cd36 and the clustering of multiple cardiovascular risk factors in spontaneous hypertension. J Clin Invest 103, 1651-1657 (1999). 24 Solomon, T. P. et al. Exercise and diet enhance fat oxidation and reduce insulin resistance in older obese adults. J Appl Physiol 104, 1313-1319 (2008). 25 Oguri, M., Adachi, H., Ohno, T., Oshima, S. & Kurabayashi, M. Effect of a single bout of moderate exercise on glucose uptake in type 2 diabetes mellitus. J Cardiol 53, 8-14 (2009). 26 Andersen, P. & Saltin, B. Maximal perfusion of skeletal muscle in man. J Physiol 366, 233-249 (1985). 27 Kraniou, G. N., Cameron-Smith, D. & Hargreaves, M. Acute exercise and GLUT4 expression in human skeletal muscle: influence of exercise intensity. J Appl Physiol 101, 934-937 (2006). 28 Musi, N. et al. AMP-activated protein kinase (AMPK) is activated in muscle of subjects with type 2 diabetes during exercise. Diabetes 50, 921-927 (2001). 29 Roy, D., Johannsson, E., Bonen, A. & Marette, A. Electrical stimulation induces fiber type-specific translocation of GLUT-4 to T tubules in skeletal muscle. Am J Physiol 273, E688-694 (1997). 30 Treebak, J. T. et al. Potential role of TBC1D4 in enhanced post-exercise insulin action in human skeletal muscle. Diabetologia 52, 891-900 (2009). 31 Tjonna, A. E. et al. Aerobic interval training versus continuous moderate exercise as a treatment for the metabolic syndrome: a pilot study. Circulation 118, 346-354 (2008). 32 Wang, Y., Simar, D. & Fiatarone Singh, M. A. Adaptations to exercise training within skeletal muscle in adults with type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance: a systematic review. Diabetes Metab Res Rev 25, 13-40 (2009). 33 Park, J. Y., Kim, K. A., Kang, M. H., Kim, S. L. & Shin, J. G. Effect of rifampin on the pharmacokinetics of rosiglitazone in healthy subjects. Clin Pharmacol Ther 75, 157-162 (2004). 34 Zhou, G. et al. Role of AMP-activated protein kinase in mechanism of metformin action. J Clin Invest 108, 11671174 (2001). 35 Weyer, C., Tataranni, P. A. & Pratley, R. E. Insulin action and insulinemia are closely related to the fasting complement C3, but not acylation stimulating protein concentration. Diabetes Care 23, 779-785 (2000). 36 Schrauwen, P., Hesselink, M. K., Jain, M. & Cianflone, K. Acylation-stimulating protein: effect of acute exercise and endurance training. Int J Obes (Lond) 29, 632-638 (2005).
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Kishan Kumar Singh is a fourth-year student majoring in Life Sciences, Faculty of Science, NUS. He is also enrolled in the University Scholars Programme. He wrote this paper for an Independent Study Module with A/P Fabian Lim Chin Leong.
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