Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
“Making a Country out of a Harbor”: Migrant Workers and Everyday Life in the Port of Singapore, 1945-1979

My research focuses on migrant workers and their changing everyday life in Singapore during its transformation from a British imperial port to an independent city-state in the twentieth century. I analyze this crucial period of fragmentation of the Indian Ocean world as new nation-states consolidated borders to answer the central question of my project: What happens when a port city becomes a territorial nation-state and what happens to mobile communities in particular? I focus on port workers in Singapore and changing aspects of everyday life, primarily dock and labor practices, urban life and housing, and notions of family, kinship, and ethnicity. In doing so, I explore changing notions of home, local, and foreign, and how these notions were both shaped by and expressed in organization of labor and urban space. From the perspective of everyday life, I connect Singapore with other Indian Ocean port cities-Hong Kong, Bombay, and Dubai-to chart the convergences and divergences between these cities. Thus, I posit that the cities' pasts as Indian Ocean ports are still visible in how labor and urban space are organized today and I provide an alternative narrative of post-war Asia. I will use English, Chinese, Arabic, and Malay archives in Singapore, the United Kingdom, Dubai, Hong Kong, and Mumbai. I will engage with state archives and counter state narratives by studying local archives such as those of temples or mosques, marriage registries and burial records, associational histories, literature, and my personal observations. In doing so, I will reconstruct the everyday life of migrant laborers and show the human dimension of the state-building and transformations in the global economy now centered around these former Indian Ocean ports.