Bangladeshi workers gathering in large numbers every
weekend at Little India’s Lembu Square. 
(photo by: Sam Kang Li taken from: http://reclaimland.sg/rl/?p=108)

Foreign workers enjoying a meal while watching
an outdoor movie screening at Sungei Road
‘Thieves Market’. 
(photo by: Sam Kang Li taken from: http://reclaimland.sg/rl/?p=108)



Singapore has for a long time, depended on vast numbers of migrant workers from India and Bangledesh, to fill the labour gaps within low-skilled industries. This large group of migrant workers have sparked much social and political debate amongst Singaporeans, most of which argue the negativity of such demographic changes. Within the city, new forms of ‘ethnic enclaves’ have emerged spatially as well, with large groups of migrant workers coming together in certain public areas. This has prompted much urban discourse regarding reasons for this and it’s impacts on the city e.g. contestation of public space.

One of the trajectories of such a discourse can be related to Bauman’s idea of ‘mixophobia’ within a city (“Liquid Times: Living in an Age of Uncertainty”). In reading it, I couldn’t help but draw many connections between Bauman’s explanation of ‘mixophobia’ and its manifestation within Singapore’s ethnic enclaves. He claims ‘mixophobia’ is a form of fear or intolerance towards ‘strangers’ in the city, which brings about spatial planning that separates and isolates people from each other, creating homogenous communities.

He explains that it is a reaction to tensions arising from increasing changes and unfamiliarity in the city. These unfamiliarities can be seen in the rapid influx of large numbers of foreign workers in Singapore. Singaporeans start to see more ‘unfamiliar strangers’ on a daily basis, from public transport to public spaces etc. ‘Visual intrusions’ to the ordinary become common and Singaporeans are forced to ‘rub shoulders’ with these strangers. They are confronted with cultures and attitudes of foreigners that are different or even contradictory to theirs, and this becomes a source of anxiety and irritation. The city becomes seemingly ‘more dangerous’ to these people, as Bauman suggests. It is this perceived danger of the unfamiliar that prompts the fearful to desire for a community of ‘sameness’ and intentionally separate themselves from the strangers.

Taking this argument, I sought to look at it from the point of view of the perceived strangers, the migrant workers who from their perspective, would view Singaporeans and the city as unfamiliar and strange too. The natural bonding together of migrant workers can be seen as a means of escaping the need to negotiate the strangeness of a foreign environment, to interact socially within their comfort zone. Within this temporary familiar setting of people alike, migrant workers don’t have to struggle with miscomprehension and misunderstandings associated with living in a foreign land. It can also be understood as a reaction to being viewed as “strange” by locals. Migrant workers are aware of the ‘fears’ (though unfounded) expressed in social discrimination against them, therefore this deliberate act of keeping together can be seen simply as a relief from mistreatments they would otherwise face outside of this group.

At the end of his discussion, Bauman also talks about the idea of ‘mixophilia’, which is the opposite of ‘mixophobia’ – “ways in which the city prompts the feelings of attraction and tolerance toward strangers”. (Scanlan, 2009) This suggests the role of architects and urban planners to create mixophillic spaces where locals and migrants may negotiate with one another without contestation. It doesn’t mean mean taking 2 vastly different communities and hoping to homogenize them as one, but rather a space where pluralities may exist within.