Singapore's Borderlands: Tourism, Migration and the Anxieties of Mobility

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By Johan A. Lindquist

The Indonesian island of Batam is a booming frontier territory where foreign investment, mostly from neighboring Singapore, converges with inexpensive land and labor. Indonesian female migrants dominate the island's economic landscape both as factory workers and as prostitutes servicing working class tourists from Singapore. It is also a jumping off point for Indonesians entering Malaysia and Singapore in search of work.

Export processing zones such as Batam are both celebrated and vilified in contemporary debates on economic globalization. Johan Lindquist's extensive fieldwork allows him to portray globalization in terms of relationships that bind individuals together over long distances rather than as a set of impersonal economic transactions. His unique ethnographic perspective draws together the worlds of factory workers and prostitutes, migrants and tourists to create a compelling account of everyday life in a borderland characterized by dramatic capitalist expansion.

The book uses three Indonesian concepts (merantau, malu, liar) to explain the mobility of migrants and tourists on Batam. The first refers to a migrant's relationship with home. The second signifies the shame or embarrassment felt when one is between accepted roles and emotional states. The third, literally "wild", is used to identify those who are out of place, notably squatters, couples in premarital cohabitation, and prostitutes without pimps. These sometimes overlapping concepts allow the book to move across economic, geographical and metaphorical boundaries.


Johan A. Lindquist is Associate Professor of Social Anthropology at Stockholm University, Sweden.


Publication Year: 2010
193 pages, 229mm x 153mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-476-0, Paperback

NUS Press