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Dissertation Medal Winner 2022

Past, Present and Post-Tropicality: Viewing Singapore through an ‘Infra(-)structural’ Field

Part 2 Dissertation 2022
Annabelle Tan
Bartlett School of Architecture (UCL) | UK
‘Tropicality’ was an epistemological tool historically used by colonial powers to naturalise and espouse Western modern rationality, marking the tropics as a socio-environmental ‘other’ to the perceived normality of temperate climates. Today, lingering post-colonial and neo-colonial tropes of ‘tropicalities’ continue to shape the built environment.

This thesis dissects three chronological modes and authoritative constructions of dominant 'tropicality' in Singapore through the lens of modern infrastructure: colonial (British control), post-colonial (nation-building) and contemporary (neoliberal). Crucially, I investigate ‘infrastructures’ of such dominant ‘tropicality’ alongside ordinary people’s lived tropical worlds and their socio-natural relationships, which created an alternative ‘infra-structure’ of tropicality - the radical potential of which is often unnoticed. I explore these diametric strands in parallel through hegemonic infrastructure and everyday acts that resist, appropriate or hybridise these power-laden spaces.

The research methodology speaks to the different epistemologies (abstract knowledge) and metis (local, accumulated practice) employed in dominant and alternative worlds respectively. It thus gathers institutionalised knowledge but also meanings and intelligence behind everyday practice. Maps, charts and government reports are used to study the former, while ethnographic observation, intergenerational memory of my grandmother, mother and myself and affective experiences illustrate the latter. I captured the past/present ‘lived worlds’ through oral narratives, collaborative mappings and drawings, prompted by family photos.

In doing so, I argue that a catalogue of alternative, subaltern practices, embodied knowledge and material cultures emerges, unsettling reductive, neocolonial ‘tropicality’ towards a post-tropical condition.

Annabelle Tan

Tania Sengupta
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