Re-inventing the Past Through Singapore Memory Project: Socio-political Complexities of Digital Crowd-sourcing Techniques

paper, specified "short paper"
  1. 1. Natalia Grincheva

    University of Melbourne

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In my presentation I will explore how online audiences experience time in digital museum communities, and how these experiences change their cultural perceptions and identities. The project will focus on the online museum case study: Singapore Memory Project (2011-2015). It is an online national initiative for public memory preservation. It was facilitated by the National Libraries and Museums Board in 2011 to collect and provide access to Singapore’s culture through crowdsourcing. It aimed to tell the “Singapore Story” through the voices of ordinary people in the live stream of their shared memories.
The construct of time appears to be the most important in the Singapore Memory Project, which even in its title speaks through the language of time. The recreation of the cultural past is an important political task for Singapore. Being a young country, the government strives to establish the country’s legitimacy through representations of evidence of its very existence in time, as this brings more leverage when negotiating identity and interests with various parties in the global context. Crowdsourcing techniques, involving ordinary people in recreating national memory, appears to be a quite sophisticated technology of manipulating the construct of time within the national consciousness. Under the pressure of national identity crises, the memory project worked as an important step to naturalize public perceptions and understanding of the nation within their political and cultural history.
Due to extremely rapid economic growth in the last fifty years, which completely reshaped physical, social, and cultural landscapes of the country, many important cultural places, symbols, and objects of significance were destroyed or lost. In this situation, it was imperative for Singapore to rebuild its cultural dimension through revitalizing and nurturing cultural memory and reconstituting national cultural identity. Aiming to rebrand the cultural image of Singapore, the government aimed to build upon public efforts of collective memory construction.
Employing interviews with governmental officials and museum managers, as well as content discursive analysis of the online memory portal, in my research I analysed how this digital space reconstructed time through museum narratives communicating political messages across borders. I also explored how these narratives were aligned with national and foreign policy objectives of the country revealing social and cultural complexities of the memory crowdsourcing exercise.
The presentation will contribute to the topic of the conference by providing an analysis of the contemporary politics of chronology through the lenses of digital diplomacy implemented within online museum environments changing human perception of time. The project will draw on the conceptual framework of French critical philosopher Bernard Stiegler, who explored the technologies of human consciousness manipulation in his seminal series,
Techniques and Time (Stiegler 1998, 2009, 2010). He elaborated on the processes of “industrialization” and “externalization” of memory which in digital networks operate through much shorter circuits of informational flows and exchanges on a global level. The increased speed of communication in online networks makes it both easier and less expensive to deliver texts, music, symbols, and images to people around the world, thus accelerating global consumption of information and formation of cultural environments. According to Stiegler, the mechanisms that are in place in the reconstruction of human experiences through interaction within digital networks can be explained by the ability of digital communication to represent the pasts of others while being in the present for an individual. As a result, history, traditions, and communities can be “instrumentalized” and transmitted, thus creating possibilities for reconstructing historical past through digital narratives changing human perceptions of time.

The presentation will identify and outline political implications of reconstructing time and memory through an empirical analysis of the Singapore Memory Project. This online museum portal provided an excellent illustration of the theoretical paradigms developed by Stiegler to describe the modern political technologies modulating public consciousness in the digital realm. More importantly, though, the Singapore Memory Project provided a platform where the power of digital technologies to change human perception of time could be tested. Through a focused analysis of the public engagement with the portal my research reveals that a crowdsourcing activity can actually turn into a political machine of inciting nationalism and constructing citizenry.


Stiegler, B.
Technics and Time, 1: The Fault of Epimetheus
. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Stiegler, B.
Technics and Time, 2: Disorientation
. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Stiegler, B.
Technics and Time, 3: Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise
. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

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