Ethnicity and class

Divides and dissent in Malaysian studies

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Abstract

Ethnicity and class, two major paradigms constructed during the British colonial period, have shaped Malaysian studies until the present. Very few concepts other than ethnicity and class have triggered as much polemics among scholars, public intellectuals, policy makers, and activists in Malaysia. This is especially so in debates over political economy, state power, social change, and the perennial question “Who rules, who gets what, who wins, and who loses?” Ethnicity has become the dominant paradigm in academic analysis, and it shapes government policies, public opinion, and people’s thinking. Ethnic preferences are so entrenched that they form a major cause of divides and dissent in society, and a millstone that constrains social cohesion and progress. Adopting a historical/retrospective approach, this article identifies four defining episodes or watersheds in post-World War II Malaysia that have a significant bearing on the complex relationship and contestation between ethnicity and class. Those episodes are: (1) postwar agenda of crafting the state and envisioning the nation, 1946–48; (2) social engineering under the New Economic Policy and nation building, 1969–71; (3) envisioning a multiethnic developed nation through Vision 2020 and Bangsa Malaysia; and (4) post-2008 transition trap: reining in ethno-nationalist resurgence and moving toward a new Malaysia. It is suggested that the ethnic paradigm, being a social construct, may change and can be changed. However, efforts to change it should be guided by a non-ethnic, inclusive, and class-based paradigm that is sensitive to the complexity of the mediation between ethnic consciousness and cross-ethnic class solidarity.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)281-307
Number of pages27
JournalSoutheast Asian Studies
Volume7
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2018

Fingerprint

ethnicity
Malaysia
paradigm
state building
social cohesion
social change
economic policy
state formation
political economy
cohesion
intellectual
Economic Policy
World War II
government policy
solidarity
mediation
public opinion
consciousness
watershed
engineering

Keywords

  • Class
  • Divides and dissent
  • Ethnicity
  • Malaysian studies
  • Social construct

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development
  • Political Science and International Relations

Cite this

Ethnicity and class : Divides and dissent in Malaysian studies. / Embong, Abdul Rahman.

In: Southeast Asian Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3, 01.12.2018, p. 281-307.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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