Publication Details

Lyons, L, Internalized Boundaries: AWARE’s Place in Singapore Emerging Civil Society, in Barr, M and C Trocki (eds) Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-War Singapore. Singapore, Singapore University Press, 2008, 248-263. Publisher information available here.


In the foundational narratives that members of the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) tell about the organisation’s formation, many topics remain (to echo the state’s vernacular) ‘out-of-bounds’. In this paper I examine the ways in which AWARE members construct their own ‘OB markers’ in telling the history of AWARE. The constructedness of this history in itself is not remarkable. In telling stories about themselves and others, we expect situated actors to re-construct and re-present the past. In this paper, however, I argue that during its first decade of activism the process of delineating the boundaries of AWARE’s ‘official’ history served two important purposes – it was both a technique of internal self-regulation (i.e. it served as a model of how best to deal with the more politically contentious aspects of the organisation’s activities) and it legitimised the organisation’s mode of engagement with the state (i.e. it entrenched the state’s own discourse about an acceptable ‘civic society’). By examining what is (un)spoken in the telling of AWARE’s history, I map out points of contention and convergence between the state’s discourses about civic/civil society and AWARE’s own model of political activism. This analysis helps to shed light on the ways in which state rhetoric is refracted within the inner workings of the Singaporean women’s movement.

Link to publisher version (URL)

National University of Singapore Press