A Penal History of Singapore’s Plural Society

During the nineteenth century, the colonial Straits Settlements of Singapore, Penang, and Melaka were established as free ports of British trade in Southeast Asia and proved attractive to large numbers of regional migrants. Following the abolishment of slavery in 1833, the Straits government transported convicts from the East India Company’s Indian presidencies to the settlements as a source of inexpensive labor. The prison became the primary experimental site for the colonial plural society and convicts were graduated by race and the labor needed for urban construction. Hidden Hands and Divided Landscapes: A Penal History of Singapore’s Plural Society, by Anoma Pieris, investigates how a political system aimed at managing ethnic communities in the larger material context of the colonial urban project was first imagined and tested through the physical segregation of the colonial prison. It relates the story of a city, Singapore, and a contemporary city-state whose plural society has its origins in these historical divisions.

Writing Past Colonialism
February 2009 / ISBN 978-0-8248-3354-1 / $28.00 (PAPER)