GP Notes on Culture
Overview on Culture
Culture is often used to explain or justify beliefs, habits and decisions and impose them on others. Yet, as our nation and world becomes ever more cosmopolitan and our population becomes exposed to influences from all over the world, few can agree on what our national culture is, whether it exists at all, and whether any particular cultural affiliation or affinity can be imposed or expected of anyone.
For this GP issue of Culture, we would like to share some online resources which will familiarise students with common themes and ideas regarding culture, while sparking their critical thinking on the issue.
GP Articles and Videos on Culture
What is Culture?
The video ‘What is Culture?‘ shows some netizens’ responses to the above question. Students can consider the extent to which culture in Singapore fits these responses. More importantly, considering the video’s governmental origins and uncompromisingly positive slant, students should also consider ways in which culture in Singapore does not fit such responses.
Hong Kong clashes as police clear food stalls
The article from BBC news, ‘Hong Kong clashes as police clear food stalls‘ depicts a February 2016 protest in Mong Kok, Hong Kong, against police officers who were taking action against illegal hawkers. The accompanying articles also consider how the enforcement action was only a catalyst that set ablaze simmering tensions along political, economic, and significantly, cultural lines, with localists’ fierce campaigning for a “Hong Kong identity”. Students should understand how disagreements over and impositions of culture and identity can lead to severe practical or even physical problems. Students can also consider whether a similar competition for the right to define our nascent “Singapore identity” has led to societal unease, even if not at the level of aggression and intensity as in Hong Kong.
Also read “More than fishballs”
Can English be a Singaporean mother tongue?
The Today News article ‘Can English be a Singaporean Mother Tongue‘ by former RJC GP Tutor and academic Mr. Luke Lu considers whether cultural and linguistic identification on the ground has shifted from the state’s prescribed model. Students can consider whether the language they are best at matches the culture that they identify with, as well as the extent to which language and culture can be divorced. Students can also consider the extent to which cultural imposition leads to deep cultural roots.
GP Tutor Discussion on Culture
In high-stakes Singapore, few explicitly focus on culture or cultural issues, with both the state and the people focusing their energy mostly on economic growth and development. Yet, behind this veneer of instrumentality, long-cherished and uncompromising beliefs about culture and cultural issues often lead to severe grievances and bitterly fought battles.
Some of the “old guard”, believing strongly that all like them must subscribe to a particular cultural conception, insist that traditional culture must be defended at all costs, and that globalisation will only lead to a return to traditional cultural beliefs and activities as a reaction to its resultant social and geographical dislocation. Others who adopt a more internationalist and descriptivist mind-set believe that traditional culture is no longer relevant in the modern world, where habits, beliefs and allegiances have changed drastically and culture has become a highly individual phenomenon that nobody can impose. When either party believes that his cultural identification should affect others, he invariably attempts to impose his view of culture on the society at large. Then, the young and progressive resist and deride the often state-sponsored and imposed culture as the last resort of the desperate propagandist, while the staunch defenders push back, countering that cultural shifts in modern society have done more harm than good.
With the slightly more liberal socio-political climate giving a measure of public prominence to these cultural tussles, which had previously been shushed up and shoved under the table in the name of “fostering” an indigenous Singaporean culture, there has never been a more interesting time to consider cultural issues in our island nation and watch them play out. With the meaning of being a Singaporean, a Chinese, a cosmopolitan, being relentlessly challenged and re-examined, reading the material and intense debates available in print and online should excite and intrigue students.
GP Issues for Class Discussion
Refer to this article, ‘Singapore and the Cosmopolitan Ideal’.
How far do you agree that Singapore is a cosmopolitan society?
Our GP Tuition Programme on Culture
GP Essays for Class Practice and Discussion
- How far do you agree that the cultural shifts in modern society have caused more harm than good?
- Traditional culture is no longer relevant in our modern world. Do you agree?
GP Notes for Class Discussion
The Relevance of Traditional Culture in the Modern World
An understanding of the arguments for and against the relevance of traditional culture in the modern world will aid students in appreciating the reasons behind cultural tension, the state’s eagerness to preserve “traditional culture” and a partial reason for the difficulty of intergenerational communication. Advanced students can further consider the implications and importance of the difficulty of exhaustively and conclusively defining “traditional culture”, as well as the distinct possibility of using “cultural arguments” to justify otherwise less-than-palatable political or economic measures.
The merits and demerits of modern cultural shifts
Students should be familiar with the arguments contending the positive and negative impacts of some modern cultural changes on a personal, societal and international level. Students should also consider the difficulty of evaluating the objective merit of any cultural phenomenon and understand that at any point in society, there was no consensus on many cultural components, and many cultural shifts which were derided by late adopters have become the “traditional culture” of today.
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