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You Can Dig a Well in China: State-Constructed Housing in Singapore and the Production of High- Rise Asianness

Tuesday, March 28, 2023 at 4:45pm to 7:00pm

Uris Hall, G08
Central Campus

Xinyu Guan (Ph.D. Candidate, Anthropology, Cornell University) leads this workshop. 

Eighty percent of Singapore’s population lives in apartment blocks constructed by the Housing Development Board (HDB). Guan's talk examines how state-constructed housing estates in Singapore function as a site for the production of Asianness.

First, Guan examines how HDB neighborhoods are cast as quintessentially Asian, as opposed to Western, spaces, amidst the turn to neoliberalism and the debates over culture in 1990s Singapore arguing that the casting of HDB neighborhoods as Asian spaces recruit HDB inhabitants as everyday enforcers of the moralized boundaries between citizens and non-citizens, and between good and bad Asians.

Second, Guan explores ethnographically how HDB neighborhoods function as a site for the production of a Sinocentric form of Asianness. He considers how migrant and nonmigrant bodies are racialized and interpellated in these spaces, in accordance with their embodied linguistic performance of Chinese languages. Further, Guan discusses how Singaporean HDB inhabitants construct new meanings of Asianness vis-à-vis these migrants, whose labor keeps the HDB neighborhood running.

Finally, Guan's talk illustrates how his ethnographic and historical perspectives enrich theorizations of Asian urban modernities and neoliberal authoritarianism in the wider region.

Introduction by Chencong Zhu (Co-chair of EAP-GSSC and Ph.D. student, Anthropology, Cornell University)


Biography: Xinyu Guan is a sixth-year PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology. His research examines state-constructed housing and the everyday micropolitics of migration and sexuality in Singapore. A Fall 2020 EAP Hu Shih Fellow, Xinyu works at the intersections of Southeast Asian, Indian Ocean and East Asian worlds, and engages questions of postcoloniality, urbanity and citizenship from critical trans-Asian perspectives.


This workshop is organized by East Asia Program's Graduate Student Steering Committee (EAP-GSSC). The GSSC workshop is open to the public but RSVPs are encouraged. Please contact for RSVPs and questions.

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Event Type

Lecture, Seminar


Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, Anthropology, Asian Studies, Society for the Humanities, East Asia Program, Southeast Asia Program

University Themes

Public Engagement, Research


Graduate Students, East Asia program, Einaudi, govtcal, asianstudiescal, fgsscal


Contact E-Mail

Contact Name

Song Han


Xinyu Guan

Speaker Affiliation

Anthropology, Cornell University

Dept. Web Site

Disability Access Information

EAP is happy to provide access of all types as need with advance notice:

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