Cultural hybrids or ethnic fundamentalists? discourses on ethnicity in Singaporean SMEs

Helen Kopnina*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper examines national and ethnic discourses within Singaporean small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and the ambiguities and dichotomies characterising Singaporean national and ethnic identity. Singapore is represented officially as a multi‐ethnic state with a Chinese majority which claims to integrate minority groups such as Indians and Malays successfully, and it boasts a generalised Singaporean culture and identity that supposedly embrace the racial and ethnic diversity of the population. However, Singapore also hosts tensions and conflicts associated with such diversity. This paper examines workplace discourses which address tensions and congruencies. The paper is based on research conducted between April 2002 and May 2003, involving 50 SMEs representing various sectors of the economy and constituting various ethnicities. The research found that, while discourses on ethnicity and nationality may be characterised as somewhat ‘shifting’ and ‘fluid’, the respondents present their identities as rather fixed. Primordial ties rather than postmodern multiplicity may better characterise discourses among the workers and owners of Singaporean SMEs.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-257
Number of pages14
JournalAsian Ethnicity
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2004
Externally publishedYes


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