The importance of ethnicity in Malaysia: A comparative study in Penang and Glasgow

Ismail, Khauthar (2017) The importance of ethnicity in Malaysia: A comparative study in Penang and Glasgow. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Ethnicity has always been regarded as a central issue in Malaysia’s socio-political and economic spheres. Whilst it is true that the country has been able to sustain a relatively stable political economy, at least since the Malay-Sino Riot of 1969, Malaysian inter-ethnic relationships remain fragile and delicate. This thesis explores the importance of ethnicity for Malaysians by focusing on the relationships between Malay and Chinese students in Penang and Glasgow. Drawing upon data acquired from fifty-five interviews, observations and secondary data analysis, the thesis locates the importance of ethnicity within a dialectical relationship between the State (Malaysia’s societal structures of family, education, occupation and politics) and the everyday actors (understanding, experiences and challenges). In this way, the thesis presents an analysis of the complex ways in which ethnic identification and categorisation are practised at the macro-structural level, and explores their intersection with a wide range of individual and collective identities. The thesis also seeks to challenge the identity of the Malaysian ethnic and nation-state epistemology, arguing that the knowledge which it produces contributes to the formulation and maintenance of ethnic boundaries in the Malaysian everyday understanding. In contrast to the primordial understanding of ethnicity, this thesis argues from an instrumentalist standpoint for an understanding that the boundaries were socially constructed for instrumental ends led by the State elites. The findings suggest that the importance of ethnicity in Malaysia is beyond the everyday manifestation of identity. It involves several overlapping concerns of the boundaries – religious and cultural – which by habitus were built to become the essence of Malay-ness and Chinese-ness. Its practicality, however, is contextual and situational depending on locations, needs, regionality and interlocutors. The results were seen in the diversity of choices made by respondents in their spouse or partner preferences, social networks, education, occupation and political views.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: ethnicity, Malaysia, post-colonial country.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Virdee, Professor Satnam and Smith, Dr. Andrew
Date of Award: 2017
Embargo Date: 9 October 2021
Depositing User: Khauthar Ismail
Unique ID: glathesis:2017-8490
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2017 10:24
Last Modified: 09 Oct 2020 07:30

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