Life is not complete without critique: Chua Beng Huat as model
ABSTRACT This essay outlines an intellectual portrait of Chua Beng Huat and a critical appreciation of his contributions as an academic, a scholar, and an intellectual. I highlight key biographical details: his family upbringing in Bukit Ho Swee, schooling in the Chinese and English mediums, higher education and academic experience in Canada, and return to Singapore, serving as a sociology faculty at the National University of Singapore, which he made a home base for inter-Asia studies. I discuss his pedagogical approach, which extends to his research and public engagement. In reviewing his works, I focus on the theme of communitarianism as a basis of political legitimacy in East Asia, with housing provision in Singapore as a prime example. His project presents an alternative to Western liberal democracy taken as the universal bedrock of political modernity. I characterize it as the recuperation of the social in the face of capitalist modernity, which is conducive to atomization and corrosive of solidarity. Yet, he projects the possibilities of a more politically liberalized communitarianism. What he offers is not a set of ready answers that reconciles Marx’s “realm of necessity” and “realm of freedom,” but a lucid exposition of the tensions between the two realms under contemporary conditions.
Keywords: Intellectuals, Singapore, Inter-Asia, Housing, Communitarianism, Liberalism, Democracy
Note on the contributor
Kwok Kian-Woon trained at University of California, Berkeley, taught at his alma mater, National University of Singapore and, after a stint in the private sector, served as a founding member of Nanyang Technological University’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences, the first head of its Sociology Division (2004–2013). He has been Associate Provost, Student Life, since 2011. His research areas include mental health, the Chinese overseas, war, trauma and memory, and Asian modernity. Teaching, scholarship, and sociological practice form the core of his intellectual vocation, which encompasses institution-building and public involvement, especially civil society activism in the areas of heritage and the arts.