Sensory Politics in a Multicultural City-State: Foodways, Religion and the Everyday

Monday, 16 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Noorman ABDULLAH, National University of Singapore, Singapore
In the context of urban and cosmopolitan cities with diverse, intensified migrant flows, questions pertaining to religious freedom have been circulated and debated. The potential for religious tension and conflict has often been pitched as a source of anxiety, given that diversity cannot in itself guarantee racial and religious harmony. This paper unpacks the repressive character of ‘harmony’ in multicultural and multi-religious societies through the lens of foodways, senses and everyday life. The cases presented empirically examines Singapore’s colonial and postcolonial conditions in relation to a range of religious and food practices, and how such logics and discourses have been politically appropriated to institutionalise and legitimise repressive armatures.

What happens when everyday religiosity expressed through food practices and rituals that involve sound, smell and other sensory modalities infringe on the sensory “rights” of other groups in such multicultural, multi-religious contexts? How does this infringement reconfigure talk about racial and religious harmony? The paper therefore draws attention to the sensory micropolitics of friction in the everyday that ostensibly appears less dramatic, less serious and less pressing than the spectacle afforded to religious violence, but which nevertheless remains real and challenging. At a broader level, the cases are connected to the processes involving the bureaucratisation of sensescapes in modern, urban Singapore – invoking the discourse of the greater good by the state vis-à-vis the project of hegemonic consensus.