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Exploratory Analysis of the Inhabitants' Experience of the Singaporean Smart Nation: Construction, Boundaries, and Connection



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The Singaporean Smart Nation [SN] promises to increase quality of life and foster community and connection for inhabitants. However, despite repeated calls for human-focused contextualised smart research, this promise has yet to see much attention or verification in Singapore or other smart settings. In response, this thesis interrogates the inhabitant experience of the SN in conjunction with the assemblage of government policy narratives to explore the construction of the SN and its impact on inhabitants. To do so, it examines a selection of government documents pertaining to their vision for the SN, an online survey of Singaporean residents (n=255), and informant interviews with government workers (n=7) and inhabitants (n=9). The government documents and employee interviews represent the top-down perspective and give insight into the government priorities and instrumental application of the SN. The survey data and inhabitant interviews provide evidence of the everyday lived experience of inhabitants. The comparison between policy aims and inhabitant perception shows how the discursive assemblage could be shaping how inhabitants live their lives and, ultimately, their ability to connect to one another and to place.

The thesis establishes three premises by considering the novel case data from different perspectives. Firstly, the assemblage of narratives and discourse to form the SN rhetoric is positioned within the historical political context of its development, showing the path-dependent nature of technological innovation in Singapore, and providing a socio-technical snapshot of the lived experience of the SN narratives. Secondly, the identified narrative assemblage is interrogated through the lens of obliged freedom, which not only situates the SN discursive assemblage as a governance technology but also reveals the boundaries created by this dynamic on the capability of inhabitants to undertake their lives. Finally, the boundaries produced through the smart discourse assemblage are explored in relation to quality of life, specifically, the need for connection, to offer an answer to the impact of the SN on inhabitants' ability to connect. This assessment shows the value in considering the implications of socio-technical systems through a capabilities approach, as it highlights the potential misalignment of the SN goals with the inhabitants' quality of life. The context of the COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant 2020 lockdown measures fast-tracked urban dependence on digital infrastructure and uptake of technology across the world. In Singapore, one possible urban future is becoming a reality under the smart banner, necessitating this timely analysis of life in the SN.





So, Emily


Connection, Discursive Assemblage, Obliged Freedom, Singapore, Smart


Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Awarding Institution

University of Cambridge