Complaint Discourse and Elders in SingaporeThis is a featured page

Lee and Rosenberg present the complaint discourse in Dobe Ju/’hoansi culture in which complaints are used by Ju/’hoansi elders to ensure quality of care. I started thinking if there are any parallels in Singapore and why not. In Singapore, complaints by elders are unwelcomed and seen as nagging. In constrast complaints by elders for the Ju/’hoansi are delivered in a joking manner and often taken in stride without animosity. This complaint discourse reminded me the insulting the meat practice that the Dobe Ju/’hoansi . Complaints and insults are delivered in a not so serious manner but for important purposes.

Perhaps this difference in views toward complaints is also due to the differing attitudes the two cultures have toward elders. For the Dobe Ju/’hoansi, elders enjoy certain privileges and status. For instance they decide kinship joking and avoidance relationships and are authority figures as healers. With their elevated status in the community, elders are able to demand care as a right, through the use of complaints. In contrast, productivity in terms of being able to work and to earn a living is prized in Singapore society. People typically lose productivity and their ability to work with age and come to be seen as dependents and as even burdens. Complaints are thus viewed as a sign of ungratefulness and lack of appreciation because elders in Singapore have no right to demand care when they are no longer contributing much to society.

Unlike the Ju/’hoansi whose caring discourse has been “constructed … with little influence from state agencies” (pg 92), caring discourse for the elders in Singapore is largely influenced by the state. The state constantly reminds us that Singapore is a Confucian society and that Singaporeans should practice filial piety and care for elderly parents. This is a message that resonates for many but sometimes it can be quite contrived. For instance the Maintenance of Parents Act that makes it mandatory by law for people to take care of their elderly parents (this website has more information http://infopedia.nl.sg/articles/SIP_1614_2009-11-30.html). While it may help ensure that elders are taken care, this also means that the larger community (the country, the state) is absolved of all responsibility of caring for the elders because the onus is now on their children. This is rather problematic because it also raises the question, who is responsible for helping to care for elders who do not have children? This is unlike the Dobe Ju/’hoansi where the primary caregivers for elders are their children but the community (village) still chips in to cares for elders if they need support like in the case of Chwa (pg 105). In addition being forced by the law to care for parents may breed resentment and frustration that could negatively affect parent-child relationships. Even so we should not be disillusioned that the way elder care is conducted in the Dobe Ju/’hoansi is superior because there are cases of abandonment in their culture as well.

I would conclude that care for elders is a tricky affair. On one hand, there is an expectation that kinsmen should care for their elders yet at the same time, caring for an elder puts a strain on resources for the caregiver and the Dobe Ju/hoansi and Singapore have different methods of encouraging care for elders through complaint discourse and with legal institutions.


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