Manoeuvring the middle ground: Social mobility and the renegotiation of gender and family obligations among Chinese Singaporeans

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The article examines Singaporeans' experiences of upward social mobility and how traditional gender roles within the family are renegotiated and reinterpreted in Singapore. When the former British colony gained independence in 1965 its post-colonial government embarked on an ambitious modernization programme, under which villages were demolished and residents relocated to new high-rise estates, farmland gave way to factories, the education system was reformed, and women entered the workforce. The transformation has been accompanied by a rapid upward social mobility, whereby Singaporeans born in the midst of the transformation, in the period 1960s – 1980s, lived remarkably different lives compared with preceding generations. The article is an ethnographic analysis of how Singaporean middle-class women and men, who have experienced rapid upward social mobility, handle and negotiate changing expectations regarding gender and intergenerational support. The analytical framework is constructed around the concepts of social mobility, modernity, and spaces of contestation and negotiation. The ethnographic data illuminate how traditional family values, such as filial piety, are contested and renegotiated. The data also show how social mobility intersects with other forms of mobility, such as the spatial movement involved in urbanization. Women entering the labour force have to spend their days away from home and can no longer fully attend to their elderly family members and/or young children. However, spatial movement in the sense of increased access to transportation and communication has also enabled members of extended families to maintain their ‘urban kinship network’ without having to live together.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)249-258
JournalNorwegian Journal of Geography
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Work


  • family obligations
  • gender
  • modernity
  • Singapore
  • social mobility


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