Subterranean displacements and replacements in Singapore: Politics, materialities and mentalities

Chih Yuan Woon, K Dodds

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Geographical writings on displacement have highlighted how processes of dispossession are instrumental in rupturing the connection between peoples and place or territory. These studies, however, tend to privilege horizontal and surface-level inquiries, thereby neglecting the ways in which the volumetric and subterranean matter to the analytical sites and lived scales of displacement. Using the case of Singapore, where underground spaces have been championed by the Urban Redevelopment Authority as the new frontier for the land-scarce city-state, we go beyond a human-centric focus to call for attention to the materialities and mentalities (and their associated politics) that are caught up in acts of displacement. In so doing, we not only tease out the surface–subsurface relations and interactions that are closely bounded up with displacements but also illuminate how instances of displacement subsequently map onto practices of replacement. Crucially, although the city-state’s underground plans are in part meant to reduce its ecological footprint emerging from land reclamation, they ironically lead to further environmental degradation given the replacement of materials from subterranean excavations into offshore marine sites. Furthermore, with the large-scale nature of this project, the Singaporean state elites have spared no efforts in displacing prevailing mentalities about the health and safety risks of a subterranean way of life and replacing public confidence and belief in the sociotechnical expertise necessary for going underground. Displacement, as such, should not only signal eviction, expulsion, and exclusion; it can also comprise different forms of replacement designed to secure resilient urban futures.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)763-771
JournalAnnals of the Association of American Geographers
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jan 2022


  • Subterranean
  • Geopolitics
  • Displacement
  • Singapore
  • Citizenship
  • Governance

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