Between communitarianism and individualisation: a discussion on Singaporean family life
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Since the 1960s, sociological models of the family have undergone dramatic transformations showing that the family cannot be confined to the nuclear, dual-parent and heterosexual model. Sociological interest in individualisation has generated much research on divorced, single-parent, same-sex and blended families. In particular, theories of individualisation have been used to explain the increasing democratisation and subjectivity of family life in late modern Western societies. The broader question this paper seeks to address is whether individualisation and the accompanying claims about the transformation of family life can be applied to non-Western contexts. East Asian scholars have suggested the 'individualisation without individualism' phenomenon could better describe the situation in several East Asian countries. This paper focuses on examining the relevance of the individualisation thesis in explaining family life in Singapore. Singapore serves as an interesting case because Singaporean family life is caught in the intersection of both individualistic and communitarian value rationales. Singaporean families negotiate within these contesting ideologies in their everyday life. This paper addresses the complexity of such negotiation processes. I conclude that Singaporean families engage in what I call 'guided individualisation', where they individualise their biography under the guidance of the state and moral authorities.