The Good Citizen: Citizenship Education and Youth in Singapore


Roger C. Baars

PhD defended at: 

The University of Auckland, New Zealand



This research project is situated in broader debates about youth-citizenship and youth participation which emerged around concerns that young people are not sufficiently engaged with politics and are not well informed about their role as citizens. The assumption is that young people as individuals lack the proper knowledge and skills, the right values and the appropriate dispositions to be active and contributing citizens. Citizenship education is seen as an important political instrument through which such future citizens-to-be are constructed and their aspirations can be moulded towards certain ends. Consequently, citizenship education often is understood as the preparation of youths to participate in society as future adult citizens.

The aim of this study is to examine how citizenship education affects everyday meanings of good citizenship among Singapore’s youth with a particular focus on processes of subjection and resistance to official discourses of good citizenship. Qualitative methods are the main instruments utilised in this project. Both the analysis of semi-structured interviews and the discourse analysis of texts are deployed to understand the interconnected motivations, instruments, and processes of modern citizenship education.

In theoretical terms this thesis is situated across the fields of national identity, citizenship, and youth studies. This research investigates (good) citizenship and citizenship education by engaging in the theoretical debates of habitus and performativity, neoliberalism, governance, and education. The thesis illustrates that the good citizen subject is performed rather than always internalised by Singapore’s youth. Common displays of good citizenship resemble pragmatic compliance with societal norms and expectations rather than necessarily illustrating individuals’ submission to official discourses. Young people are citizens here and now, however their expressions of citizenship remain contained within adult-defined notions of acceptable action. This thesis concludes by arguing that seeing good citizenship as performed rather than an internalised set of discourses helps to obtain a more nuanced understanding of the multifaceted character of (youth-) citizenship.