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The Politics of “Youth” and Student Movements in Singapore, 1949-1960s

Sun, June 26, 3:00 to 4:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: BF, 007


Student activism and youth movements are hardly associated with Singapore, known more for its unapologetic belief in a strong state and non-tolerance of transgressive social movements. New research has revealed active student movements in Singapore between the 1950s and 1970s though this has so far focused on protest movements in the Chinese middle schools and Nanyang University, contextualized within the politics of Chinese education and culture and the Cold War. It is only recently that research on student activism in the English-medium University of Malaya (established under colonial auspices in 1949) has been published. These English-educated students occupy a more ambiguous space, since they were assigned the role of being the future leaders and elites of the country. This paper utilizes insights and ideas from studies of youth and student movements and from the emerging history and political geography of youth to present the little-known history of elite student movements in Singapore between the 1950s and the 1970s. It argues that student and youth movements in Singapore since the 1950s have to be contextualized within the ideology of “youth” embraced and perpetuated by the Singapore state since independence. The constructed identities, images and ideals of “youth” became the frame within which the Singapore state located and assessed youth-led social movements. This discourse eventually inflected the state’s differing responses to different modalities and modes of youth activism.