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Title: The Interplay of Culture and Structure in Intergenerational Underdevelopment - The Case of Working Poor Malays in Singapore
Keywords: stratification, culture, poverty, malays, singapore, mobility
Issue Date: 25-Jun-2010
Citation: MASTURA BTE MANAP (2010-06-25). The Interplay of Culture and Structure in Intergenerational Underdevelopment - The Case of Working Poor Malays in Singapore. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: Notwithstanding Singapore?s economic success, it remains puzzling that Malays have been persistently overrepresented amongst the working poor since independence. Singapore state representatives and many scholars typically employ culturalist explanations to understand this. A minority have adopted the structuralist perspective that historically traces the social and economic impediments to Malay social mobility. This dissertation explores the intricate relationship between structure and cultural milieu in restricting the intergenerational mobility of working poor Malay families. It seeks to identify persisting structural factors that limit intergenerational mobility amongst working poor Malays. It asks how these are associated with the cultural practices and beliefs of not only Malay working poor families, but also of social service practitioners and Malay leaders. I maintain the following. First, the factors underlying the concentration of in-work poverty amongst Malays are not predominantly cultural, but structural in nature. Singapore?s economic transformation posed particular consequences for Malays who, for historical reasons, were already concentrated in lower-paying occupations. Second, working poor Malay families are not just constrained by the lack of finances. The dearth of social and cultural resources, and the inclination to identify `race? rather as the biggest impediment to their upward mobility, are equally critical influences. Third, all three groups of actors continuously straddle between structural and cultural explanations to comprehend why the working poor are disproportionately Malays. Their conversational uses of `structure? and `culture? however, depart from scholarly discourses. By actively pursuing their self-interests, via habitus, each group indirectly ends up reaffirming the status quo. This study synthesizes the culturalist and structuralist comprehensions of development, and qualitatively documents the ramifications of burgeoning social inequalities in Singapore, widely regarded as Southeast Asia?s and East Asia?s success story. With regard to the intricate relationships between culture and structure, it proposes that each concept achieves it full analytical potency only in tandem with the other. Drawing linkages between `local? experiences of inequality and `global? economic trends such as regionalization and the shift from manufacturing to services, this dissertation sheds light on the complex intersections between the institutions of ethnic relations and inequality, and how social actors culturally mediate them. Furthermore, this dissertation adds to the long-standing debate whether `habitus? ? as a system of socially learned beliefs and dispositions ? offers sufficient space for the transformation of social relations, or mechanistically reproduces those very relations. Finally, this thesis also departs from the emphasis normatively placed on working poor families. The interpretive attempt to make sense of the `clashes? in cultural practices and beliefs, especially when working poor families encounter middle-class individuals in social service institutions, and vice-versa, is another significant empirical contribution of this study.
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