This paper gathers inspiration from the 2018 documentary film by Kalyanee Mam, Lost World. This documentary focused on how sand dredging projects by Singaporean companies have destroyed the environment and livelihoods of Cambodians who live and rely on coastal mangroves. This paper argues that the wilful disengagement and selective picking of what constitutes a nation’s history and legacy has real, practical repercussions on how the modern state shuns the consequences of its extractive practices that enable its development. This paper aims to unpack how Singapore justifies sand mining to feed continuous development within its national borders, despite the negative repercussions this activity has in the wider region. Kalyanee Mam’s film has captured the lack of language afforded to those who are displaced and affected by sand mining- which has been duly authorised and legalised through international, regional, and national political and legal institutions. In particular, Singapore’s environmental, social, political, and economic stance internalises and embodies that of its coloniser, enabling this extraction. This has allowed the state to construct itself in the vision of the coloniser. The labour and land extracted and utilised to construct the postcolonial state are necessary yet invisible within the cityscape, mimicking colonial policies. This paper asks what outlets and what power structures can allow for accountability and visibility for what is being hidden? This paper will progress in five parts: a) introducing sand mining; b) analysing Singapore from colony to postcolony; c) unpacking Singapore’s version of exceptionalism within the Southeast Asian region; d) introducing racial capitalism as a form of analysis; e) introducing how sand mining has been understood in the region; f) concluding remarks.

Published: 2022-10-18