Family Justice, “Asian Values” and the Politics of Ambivalence in Singapore

In: Asian Journal of Social Science
Daniel P.S. Goh National University of Singapore

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In recent years, Singapore made significant reforms towards the establishment of a dedicated family justice system, setting up the Family Justice Courts and enacting new laws to better manage the divorce process and the protection of children. Related policy changes have also been implemented to provide and support families that were previously considered non-traditional and even deviant. Rhetorically, the state, led by the long-ruling People’s Action Party, continues to champion the modern nuclear family with heterosexual marriage at its core as the normal “traditional” form of the family and the bedrock of conservative “Asian values” defining society and politics in Singapore. However, what the judiciary espouse as the new family justice paradigm and the related family justice practices, together with the shifts in social policy towards different family types, are changing the texture of the dominant conservatism rallied by “Asian values” discourse. This article locates and analyses the incipient paradigm shift in the rising pluralism of family forms and the influence of international legal developments in protecting the rights of the child and interventionist family law. By attempting to bridge the Weberian chasm of doing sociology as a vocation and doing politics as a vocation (as an opposition Member of Parliament), I show that the family justice paradigm has opened up the discursive field on the family and produce the politics of ambivalence caught between family justice and Asian family values. I argue for a relational family justice paradigm as a way to move beyond the politics of ambivalence.

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