Social Justice and the Middleman Minority State: “Wokeness” and the Problem of the “Third Generation”

15:00 to 16:30

The paper presented suggests some ideas for further research based on my doctoral research about Singapore. In my PhD thesis, Middleman Minority Nation: Globalization and Social Democracy in Singapore, I pursue two broad arguments: a) that Singapore is best understood as a social democracy adapted to the conditions of global capitalism; and b) that this form of social democracy is best understood as a hybrid between traditional social democracy and middleman minority culture. The latter term is borrowed from Bonacich and Sowell, who define “middleman minority” as an ethnic minority group living in a host society, in which they occupy the position of middleman – between producers and consumers, and/or between different social groups – and in which they have achieved greater economic success than the majority group/s among whom they live (examples being the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Jews in Europe, and the Parsis in India, to mention just a few). In my thesis, I coin the term “middleman minority state” (MM state) to describe Singapore’s unique, and highly successful, form of statecraft. By this, I mean a small state that operates in the global market the same way as any middleman minority operates in a “host society”: by inserting itself into an economy over which it has no political control (the global market/“host society”), and making money by entering into mutually beneficial and voluntary business deals with whoever is willing to trade. In my future research, I want to look at the recent introduction of critical social justice discourse – or “wokeness”, as it is also called – into Singaporean public life, which I see as a key challenge to the kind of statecraft that Singapore built its economic success on. Specifically, I want to look at how critical social justice relates to the key challange of the MM state, which I argue is the need to remain culturally segregated from the “host society”/the global market while nevertheless integrating into it economically.

Jacob Hjortsberg is currently completing his PhD at the University of Bergen. His work is part of the ERC-funded research project Egalitarianism: Forms, Processes, Comparison, led by professor Bruce Kapferer. His PhD research has centered on the relation between globalization, democracy, and social democracy as it plays out in the small Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore, where he has done extensive fieldwork, and lived for many years

University of Bergen.
Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.
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