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Open Webinar: Social Justice and the Middleman Minority State


Date: Monday 14 February 2022

Time: 15.00 – 16.30

Location: Zoom

Social Justice and the Middleman Minority State: "Wokeness" and the Problem of the "Third Generation”. Jacob Hjortsberg, PhD Candidate, University of Bergen.

The paper presented suggests some ideas for further research based on my doctoral research about Singapore. In my PhD thesis, Middleman Minority Nation: Globalization and Social Democracy in Singapore, I pursue two broad arguments: a) that Singapore is best understood as a social democracy adapted to the conditions of global capitalism; and b) that this form of social democracy is best understood as a hybrid between traditional social democracy and middleman minority culture. The latter term is borrowed from Bonacich and Sowell, who define “middleman minority” as an ethnic minority group living in a host society, in which they occupy the position of middleman – between producers and consumers, and/or between different social groups – and in which they have achieved greater economic success than the majority group/s among whom they live (examples being the Chinese in Southeast Asia, the Jews in Europe, and the Parsis in India, to mention just a few). In my thesis, I coin the term “middleman minority state” (MM state) to describe Singapore’s unique, and highly successful, form of statecraft. By this, I mean a small state that operates in the global market the same way as any middleman minority operates in a “host society”: by inserting itself into an economy over which it has no political control (the global market/“host society”), and making money by entering into mutually beneficial and voluntary business deals with whoever is willing to trade. In my future research, I want to look at the recent introduction of critical social justice discourse – or “wokeness”, as it is also called – into Singaporean public life, which I see as a key challenge to the kind of statecraft that Singapore built its economic success on. Specifically, I want to look at how critical social justice relates to the key challange of the MM state, which I argue is the need to remain culturally segregated from the “host society”/the global market while nevertheless integrating into it economically.

Jacob Hjortsberg is currently completing his PhD at the University of Bergen. His work is part of the ERC-funded research project Egalitarianism: Forms, Processes, Comparison, led by professor Bruce Kapferer. His PhD research has centered on the relation between globalization, democracy, and social democracy as it plays out in the small Southeast Asian city-state of Singapore, where he has done extensive fieldwork, and lived for many years.

Zoom link: 

The seminar is co-arranged with the Department of Social Anthropology, Stockholm University.