Borders and the Exclusion of Migrant Bodies in Singapore's Global City-state
Baey, Grace H. Y.
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Feminist geographic debates have drawn attention to the multi-scalar role of borders as processes of social differentiation that are reproduced and inscribed on the bodies of migrant workers in everyday life. This thesis explores these questions in the context of Singapore’s global city-state where the increasing visibility of low-wage foreign workers in local residential areas has become a subject of tense neighbourhood frictions that frequently bring borders into sharp relief. Using the case-study of a recent public furore surrounding the proposed location of a foreign worker dormitory in Serangoon Gardens, one of Singapore's well-known middle-class estates, it examines the ways that migrant exclusions in local residential areas are informed by border anxieties and practices that mark out the labouring bodies of foreign workers as alien and “out of place.” The Serangoon Gardens incident exhibited a moment of tension whereby gendered, racialised, and class-based meanings attached to specific forms of flexible labour (particularly foreign construction and domestic work) were inserted into wider debates about nation, community, and the socio-spatial preservation of middle-class identity and belonging. Insofar as Singapore’s growth remains undergirded by the systematic in-flow of low-wage foreign workers to service its infrastructural and social reproductive labour needs, a study of borders helps illuminate the inherent contradictions and barriers of mobility within the global city as an exclusionary landscape. This thesis argues that the deeply marginalised place of foreign workers in society stems predominantly from the constitutive role of the state’s managerial migration regime in shaping everyday social meanings and practices that construct these workers as unassimilable subjects within the city-state. The outcome of these multi-scalar forms of bordering practices has been to produce a transient, depoliticised, and governable migrant population in the interests of security and economic prosperity in Singapore’s global city-state.