This article places race at the analytical center of a comparative urban transport history of early twentieth-century Singapore and Manila. It focuses on motorization, as seen in the influx and eventual dominance of streetcars and automobiles. The British and the American colonizers turned these Western-made vehicles into symbols of colonial modernity, defined in racialized terms. They regarded the different “Asiatics” as naturally ill-equipped to handle streetcars and automobiles, and when the colonized proved them wrong, the colonizers framed these acts using the racialist discourse of “potentiality.” Nevertheless, the native transport laborers appropriated motorized vehicles in ways that the colonizers did not imagine. Machines presented the natives a world of knowledge, which was maximized for financial gain. The acquisition of various forms of knowledge thus revealed a paradox of the civilizing mission: the colonizers exposed natives to the world of civilized knowledge, but the acquisition of this knowledge disrupted colonial discipline.
“Asian” Laborers and “Western” Urban Transportation in Colonial Manila and Singapore
Michael D. Pante
Michael D. Pante
A paradigm shift has occurred in the historiography of mobility in the Philippines and Southeast Asia in the past decade. Many of the recent works deal with social history, such as accounts of transport workers and analyses of colonial modernity, and thus reveal the influence of the broader historiographical revolution that began in the 1970s. Slowly but surely, the history of mobility is carving out a discursive space for itself within the wider area of mobility studies, which, in the Philippines, has heretofore focused only on planning and policy.
Kah Seng Loh and Michael D. Pante
A history of urban floods underlines the state's efforts to discipline people as well as to control floodwaters. We focus on two big cities in Southeast Asia—Singapore and Metro Manila—in the period from after World War II until the 1980s. During this period, both cities traversed similar paths of demographic and socioeconomic change that had an adverse impact on the incidence of flooding. Official responses to floods in Singapore and Manila, too, shared the common pursuit of two objectives. The first was to tame nature by reducing the risk of flooding through drainage and other technical measures, as implemented by a modern bureaucracy. The second was to discipline human nature by eradicating “bad” attitudes and habits deemed to contribute to flooding, while nurturing behavior considered civic-minded and socially responsible. While Singapore's technocratic responses were more effective overall than those in Metro Manila, the return of floodwaters to Orchard Road in recent years has highlighted the shortcomings of high modernist responses to environmental hazards. This article argues that in controlling floods—that is, when nature is deemed hazardous—the state needs to accommodate sources of authority and expertise other than its own.