Ecological Biopolitics in the Garden City: Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and The Discourse on Natural Heritage

 

Ecological Biopolitics in the Garden City:
Cosmopolitanism, Nationalism, and The Discourse on Natural Heritage

Joshua Goh, National University of Singapore

(Initially published in YNUJ Volume 2, 2018)


Abstract

The coherence of official environmental discourse in Singapore is torn apart by the continued existence of two conflicting visions of the state-led landscaping project. On one hand, the idea of the “man-made garden” favors exotic lifeforms at the expense of native biodiversity. On the other hand, the increasingly popular notion of the “ecological garden” seeks to create a sacred space for native species at the total exclusion of foreign ones.

This ideological incoherence directly contradicts the Foucauldian paradigm of ecological biopolitics which takes rational governmentality as its axiom. Consequently, this paper argues for a paradigmatic shift in the field of ecological biopolitics by proposing the “gardening paradigm” as a replacement for the mainstream Foucauldian paradigm of ecological biopolitics. Rejecting the Foucauldian paradigm’s assumption of a rationalist state, the gardening paradigm demonstrates how the aesthetic and ecological imperatives of gardening influence state biopolitical management of non-human populations. The ecological imperative seeks to create a nativist utopia for local biodiversity by entirely excluding all exotic species while the aesthetic imperative seeks to create a cosmopolitan microcosm which often privileges exotic ornamentals at the expense of native species. This zero-sum situation forces the state to practice biopolitics by making non-human populations live and die based upon their overall contribution to the garden.

At the same time, this paper will also account for the emergence of biopolitical tensions between the aesthetic and ecological imperatives by using the “gardening paradigm” to trace the historical evolution of official environmental discourse in Singapore. This narrative will illustrate how the ecological imperative, in the guise of “natural heritage,” has broken the continuity of Singapore’s environmental discourse. By creating a parallel discourse alongside the predominant aesthetic imperative, this discontinuity has resulted in the two discordant visions of the garden city.


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