Using Policy to Engineer Identity: Singapore’s National Service and the Salience of Ethnic Diversity
32 Pages Posted: 20 Dec 2013 Last revised: 16 Aug 2017
Date Written: October 18, 2015
Extensive research has associated ethnic diversity with a range of negative outcomes. But ethnic diversity only affects outcomes when it forms the basis of social or political division. Can public policy shape identity in ways that reduces the divisiveness of ethnic difference? This paper provides evidence that suggests Singapore’s National Service program has altered the attitudes and behaviors of conscripts in a way that may achieve that goal. I leverage exogenous variation in the intensity of two unit types in the National Service program for causal identification. Indirect measures of identity are employed to reduce the risk of measurement bias. While additional data through ongoing work is necessary to reach final conclusions, existing findings demonstrate the potential of public policy to shape identity and offer insights on necessary conditions.
Keywords: Singapore, national service, ethnic identity, civic identity, nationalism, contact hypothesis, political socialization, public policy
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