Mark Usher, Territory, hydraulics, biopolitics: internal colonization through urban catchment management in Singapore – Territory, Politics, Governance, April 2022
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On separating from Malaysia in 1965, the People’s Action Party (PAP) sought to rapidly transform Singapore into a modern, industrialized nation-state. This was deemed essential if Singapore, a small island-nation, were to survive as an independent country. Nation-building would be reliant on territorial integration, entailing the industrialization and subordination of the rural periphery by a modernizing urban core, a process referred to as internal colonization. Territorial integration was critical in Singapore as the British had focused its efforts on the port city, leaving much of the island undeveloped. While there has been significant academic interest in both land and water scarcity in Singapore, rarely are they addressed together, which, as this paper argues, is necessary to understand the wider territorialization process. This paper reveals how the gradual expansion of catchment area into different regions of the island, through reservoir construction and anti-pollution measures, facilitated, legitimized and depoliticized the comprehensive restructuring of the domestic economy, urban renewal and gentrification, and resettlement of the population. The case is made for a political ecology of the state that historicizes and politicizes territory by revealing its forgotten, contested, physical geography. The importance of internal colonization to Michel Foucault’s thinking on power is also underlined.