Riots, cat killers and regulated vices: collective anxiety and the management of danger in two neighbourhoods in Singapore

Dr Laura  Naegler1  Joe Greener2
1Northumbria University , Newcastle Upon Tyne , United Kingdom, 2University of Liverpool, Singapore

Based on ethnographic research in two neighbourhoods in Singapore, this paper explores how political, media and public debate construct certain communities as ‘high-crime’ and dangerous. This underpins material and concrete interventions by state authorities such as heavy investment in security technologies and on-the-street surveillance. Geylang not only has a high influx of migrant workers but is known as the city’s main area for illegal and vice activity including sex work, illegal gambling and trade in counterfeit pharmaceuticals. Considerable effort by authorities goes into regulating criminal and vice activity in the area. However, there is a strongly performative aspect to this control of Geylang which is aimed at permitting and containing vices, rather than halting them altogether. Yishun is a lower-income neighbourhood with low-crime rates according to national statistics. However, reports on cases of, for example, animal abuse, a (satirical) blog claiming the neighbourhood being ‘cursed’ and several social media memes playing on this image led to a perception of Yishun as a high crime area. Both case studies are expressions of collective anxieties about security, safety, crime and danger in the small island city state. These collective anxieties are driven by the ambivalences of life and politics in Singapore, such as the state’s need to maintain the image of a low-crime crime nation while at the same time making it appear that the threat of crime is ever present, the perception that crime could easily propel into chaos if not contained, and the downplaying of actual existing social problems.


Laura Naegler, PhD, is a lecturer in criminology at Northumbria University. Her research interests are critical and cultural criminology, urban sociology, resistance studies and political theory, with a focus on the study of social movements, social unrest, and “new” forms of democratic participation.



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