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This Is What Inequality Looks Like

4.46  ·  Rating details ·  2,854 ratings  ·  364 reviews
This book—an ethnography of inequality—addresses these questions. Formed by a series of essays, they are written to be read individually, but have been arranged to be read as a totality and in sequence. Each aims to accomplish two things: first, to introduce a key aspect of the experience of being low-income in contemporary Singapore. Second, to illustrate how people’s exp ...more
Paperback, First, 288 pages
Published January 2018 by Ethos Books
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Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
I was a little hesitant to add this book to my "read" album here, because it would almost be a declaration of the responsibility i now have for the paradigm-shifting knowledge detailed in the book. But not doing so would be maintaining a blind eye to an issue that we collectively have the power to alleviate. And any Singaporean who still has a stake in this land, cannot and should not be blind. In the issue of inequality, it truly stands to benefit us and our next generations, to care about how ...more
This is a book about inequality in Singapore, based on 3 years' worth of ethnographic research by Teo. In it, Teo seeks to force deeper reflection about the narratives we tell ourselves about inequality and poverty in Singapore - that the story of Singapore is unequivocally one of progress from Third World to First; that while there is poverty (there is poverty everywhere after all), the poor here have it better than their counterparts elsewhere, with roofs over their heads, plenty of government ...more
ash | spaceyreads
This is a very, very important book, not just on inequality and poverty, but as a great tool to allow yourself to learn how to be more critical and observant of structural processes and how they interact to influence an individual's life and choices in ways we don't usually think about.

This is a good book for readers at most levels of understanding of social issues such as inequality. A good few points to take away from this book, which Prof Teo has very clearly broken down into digestible piec
Judith Huang
In lucid and often beautiful prose, Teo shines a light on low income people in Singapore. A work of elegance and bravery, it should be a must read for anyone who cares about Singapore, and dispels and questions the many myths we base our society on, particularly that the poor are undeserving or a leech on society. Read it!
Jun 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
First up, thank you, thank you, thank you. We owe Teo You Yenn a huge thank you: there's been a fair bit of good writing, good producing and good discussion relating to inequality in Singapore (i.e. CNA's wonderful series "Don't Call Us Poor"; numerous articles, speeches on meritocracy and its discontents by various people from all walks of life - Donald Low, Bilahari Kausikan, etc etc.), but I think This Is What Inequality Looks Like is a piece that brings together these scattered conversations ...more
Feb 28, 2020 rated it liked it
dr teo gives a scathing critique of how the state's narrative of meritocracy legitimises and determines who deserves care, and who will be irrevocably excluded from said care. in this regard, the book is a sharp and insightful look at how singapore's neo-liberalist policies work to absolve the state from any complicity in reproducing classism in the country. but, you can't publish a book explicitly on inequality in singapore and barely mention race. teo's official reasoning is that analysing rac ...more
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book speaks to me on so many levels - as a woman (unmarried, and at an age that I probably should); a Sociology graduate; an average income earner; a worker in the social space. I thank the author for this thoughtful piece of work as it had put me on a journey of deep reflection, questioning, and meaningful reconnection with the Sociological perspective.

The author demands the book to be read sequentially, and it is of little wonder, as it starts powerfully with a call to ‘disrupt the narrat
Apr 29, 2018 rated it really liked it
“The lack of class privilege is about having to play by someone else's rules; the presence of class privilege is about being able to set standards.”

This Is What Inequality Looks Like is a collection of essays on inequality/social classes/poverty in Singapore. We seem to think that poverty isn't as prevalent in Singapore since most low-income persons could apply for rental flats. Hence, rendering them invisible to us.

The author challenged us to think about our privileges and what can be done
Javier Lorenzana
Apr 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-think
Poverty can only be fully understood in the context of the structural forces that perpetuate it. This book dives deep into those forces: assessing subconscious assumptions, revealing the flaws of national narratives, and questioning the very principles of the meritocratic system. In doing so, You Yenn Teo also showcases the multidimensional effects that poverty has on real people.

This book showed me much more than poverty or inequality. It opened my eyes to the subtle yet encompassing role struc
Samantha Tan
Mar 27, 2019 rated it liked it
Teo points out a lot of uncomfortable truths in our society. This is especially jarring for those in a position of privilege who hold the greatest instrument for change, will we be brave enough to make choices that places us at a ‘disadvantage’ for the pursuit of equality? While I don’t agree with all her ideas, it was interesting to read how subtle differences in infrastructure and, of course, policy further enhances the divide. The book does not tell us what we don’t already know, but rather m ...more
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Why am I inserting myself so much in what I write? This is not typical practice in academic writing. It is actually tremendously uncomfortable. I insert myself because as I get deeper and deeper into this research, I see that this is key to shifting our lenses for viewing inequality and poverty more fully”

This quote sums up the reason why I love this book. Inequality, privilege, poverty, class, race. These are topics not openly discussed in Singapore, conveniently swept under the rug of igno
Aug 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really wanted to like this book. The author addresses a real and important issue that many Singaporeans don't think or talk about, but in truth, the book could have been summarised to about 20 pages or so. As I continued reading, I found myself gaining less and less from each additional page that I read, and ultimately stopped about halfway through.

The message is important and relevant - this has been covered quite extensively in other reviews - but the writing could be made more accessible a
i was prompted to read this by an NUS friend who had been assigned a chapter from here as a reading for one of his general education mods. naturally, i assumed that the author, who is a local university professor, was an NUS prof. seemingly unrelated backstory is that there's this sociology module called hs2008 social class and inequality which i'm eligible for and have been wanting to take for my second major and which was also recommended to me in year 1 by a ppga senior who said it was the be ...more
Nov 06, 2021 rated it liked it
essays on local situations focusing on literally what the title says; inequality - that most singaporeans might not be fully aware about.

finally had some time to read a hype book especially it being recommended by many throughout the years. however, i felt that it was quite overhyped & im quite disappointed with myself for not being able to give my 100% attention into reading something that is so important. not saying that it was really bad but its just probably the way it was written that was
Jan 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"Elitism and marginality are two sides of the same coin."

Borrowed this book from my cousin, who highly recommended it. As a Malaysian, I subconsciously compared this book with "The Colour of Inequality" by Muhammed Abdul Khalid, a book which also lingers around the theme of inequality in Malaysia. Both books were written in different styles, Teo's being more personal and consistently has an emphatic tone. Perhaps their backgrounds do matter, Teo was trained as a sociologist, Khalid an economist.
Sharon Lam
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
It is either you understand the message or think that she is blaming the government. As someone working in the social service, this has been both real as well as enlightening. It reinforces the advocacy spirit that all social workers in Singapore should have.
The collected essays in this book are incredibly important. Not currently living in Singapore, there's obviously a lot I'm not personally comfortable speaking on, but I do know a fair amount more than the average non-Singaporean about the ongoing situation of migrant or "guest" workers and how terribly they're treated. Dr. Teo's book was published before stricter border control methods further complicated the problem, but that's also an ongoing problem, where workers are allowed (or, as is also ...more
A.K. Kulshreshth
May 12, 2021 rated it it was amazing
This is an important work that one hopes is helping to change minds -- at least for those for whom that is not ruled out -- or re-articulate some things that we kind of believe to be true but couldn't quite put together.

Narratives are crucial to every "invisible college". For example, there is a narrative that welfare will make people lazy, or that there is such a thing as pure meritocracy that is flawlessly working to give good lives to better people. If people read more, these narratives would
Sean Goh
Sep 21, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Singaporeans
Shelves: singlit, politics
To declare that one has read this book, in the words of another reviewer, is to acknowledge that one can no longer turn a blind eye to the shortcomings of our longstanding narratives. It is daunting. It is also necessary.

Meritocracy in sociological literature is widely recognised as a system for sorting and then differentially rewarding people; it is a system for legitimising the process and outcomes of sorting, based on narrow notions of what is worth rewarding.
Meritocracy in Singapore work
Jul 14, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I enjoyed this book a lot, it was very beneficial to a lot of self-reflection that I have been doing this year.

Some of my highlights:

No matter what it is we know, and regardless of what empirical truths have informed our knowledge, we retain blindspots. These are remnants of some earlier learning; they are deeply embedded prejudices; and they are ways of seeing (or not seeing) that we share with many others in our society. (25)

Inequality, in fact, is a logical outcome of meritocracy. What the ed
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
As I was planning to write my thoughts about Ocean Vuong's On Earth We're Breifly Gorgeous, I just happened to pick up This Is What Inequality Looks Like. And reading this brought me a sense of awakening that I did not expect.

This Is What Inequality Looks Like is an ethnology that studies poverty and inequality in Singapore through various essays, each taking a closer look at various aspects interlinked with class differences such as education, implementations and even dignity.

I first saw this
Haur Bin Chua
Aug 24, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2019
This book covers an important subject and aims to give us a peek into the level of inequality in Singapore especially from the perspective of those who are in the lower rungs of the society.

In the opening chapters of the book, the author laid out hugely significant revelations on the sense of helplessness these people in our society is facing and how real the mental load is in creating a sense of swimming in a viscous body of water. Our society has created convenience and access for the masses
Seng Wee Wong
Apr 07, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This book is about poverty and inequality in Singapore. For foreigners not living in Singapore might not be able to visualise a global cosmopolitan state having people from the lower working class struggling with their daily lives. From a foreigner's perspectives, Singapore is blessed with world class leadership and with good leadership, poverty and inequality are likely to be mitigated to a large extent. Yes but not entirely true. I myself, a Singaporean whom come from a low-income family fully ...more
Apr 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I sincerely believe that This is What Inequality Looks Like is a seminal work(as my GP AQ can attest to), and perhaps even a turning point in our conversation on poverty and inequality in Singapore.

In paragraph after paragraph, professor Teo intertwines sociological concepts with the lived experiences of the low-income in Singapore - taking particular care not to “otherise” them. It is, I believe, a must read for anyone who cares even a little about Singapore.

Before I crystallise some of my ke
Jul 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
Not so much novel knowledge, but a good reminder and reflection of the differences between people in Singapore, and to always be aware of those in need, and not take our growth as a nation for granted. Just because I am a product of the Singapore system and have succeeded, it doesn't entitle me to anything. The notion that meritocracy is “fair” and the stigma that poor people don’t work hard is also wrong!

So much charity in the way she writes which is so refreshing and a much needed perspective
Donn Lee
Sep 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This was a great title for a book. Immediately caught my attention and I thought I had to read it. Then I realised it was by a Singaporean author. And I changed my mind.

A week passed. Two. Four. Eight. Eventually, I purchased a copy because I was just damn intrigued. And having read it I wasn't disappointed - this book gave me a glimpse of a Singapore I just never quite thought about. From a middle-class family raised with middle-class friends and reading about middle-class sensibilities, Teo in
Oct 12, 2019 rated it liked it
A coruscating examination of inequality in Singapore and the attitudes which perpetuate it. In particular, she brilliantly points out the contradiction between the state-sponsored narrative and the unpleasant reality of living in a post-industrial capitalist hellscape:

Our national discourse emphasizes sacrifice, community, greater good. Our institutions, our everyday lives— they regulate and compel individualism, competition, self-centeredness.

Teo doesn't hold back in her examination of the gove
Dec 30, 2021 rated it really liked it
This book made waves among the chattering classes when it was published. It was written by a Singaporean sociologist and deals with the situation of the poor in Singapore. It's not terribly earth shattering if you have even a passing knowledge of the sociology of poverty: that the circumstances of the poor work to keep them trapped in a cycle of poverty. But then, I'm not really the audience for this book. Teo You Yenn wrote it clearly as an appeal to people like this person: a woman who works i ...more
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favourites
Never has a non-fiction book been such a pleasure to read. Teo’s style of writing is personal, clean, succinct, and easy to understand, allowing anyone to look at inequality and poverty from a sociological lens without having to wade through academic writing. It is a book for people who love Singapore, who are aware that we’re not perfect but still want to make this island a better place for all. A beautiful book that knows solutions are hard to find, but wants to disrupt the narrative and spark ...more
Lesley Nair
Mar 01, 2021 rated it really liked it
Teo's book does an amazing job with explaining the key concepts that are fogged out by ideologies in Singapore. She provides her own personal experience in a retelling of certain incidents, adding a good layer of relatability for the reader. She could have investigated other key issues of intersectionality that intertwine with inequality. But she herself contended that her book had an agenda that could not explore other areas in depth. I agree with that decision and recommend this book for every ...more
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“Inequality, in fact, is a logical outcome of meritocracy. What the education system does when it selects, sorts, and hierarchizes, and when it gives its stamp of approval to those 'at the top,' is that it renders those who succeed through the system as legitimately deserving. Left implicit is that those at the bottom have failed to be deserving.” 8 likes
“low-income parents find themselves having to do this immensely difficult thing: they have to tell hteir kids to listen to them and yet also send them the message “don’t be like me.” It is difficult to exercise authority under these conditions. To have one’s parenting practices be unintelligible, unacknowledged, deemed less worthy, is a profound form of attack on the self, especially when being a parent is a central part of one’s identity.” 7 likes
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