A Review: Rethinking Ethnicity in Malaysia


  • Adam D Tyson Universiti Utara Malaysia


In June 2009 the Malaysian Journal of Economic Studies released a special issue on ethnicity in Malaysia. This was the result of a broad collaborative effort from distinguished University of Malaya faculty members. Guest Editor Kee-Cheok Cheong (2009: 3) hoped that this compilation of articles would help shape the future of Malaysia by challenging ethnocentrism and encouraging a new national political consciousness. The general thrust of the argument seems to indicate that the authors collectively support a liberal view of universal rights based on jus soli and equal citizenship. By logical extension, this is a call for the de-racialisation of Malaysian politics, the gradual erosion of Malay special rights, and the eclipse of pseudo-democratic, ethnically-segregated political party coalitions. No one would dare say this directly, of course, for fear of breaching perennially ‘sensitive’ issues. This special issue contains seven original articles penned by a combination of ten scholars. Given the institutional centrality of ethnicity in Malaysian political life, Cheong (2009: 1) argues that the government has lost sight of the primary goal of national unity through social integration. Using historiography and thick description, the functional continuity of ethnicity is examined by Kay-Kim Khoo (2009). In order to plug gaps in our understandings of the ways in which data collection shapes government policy, statistical analysis of census data is provided by Kee-Cheok Cheong et al. (2009) and Shyamala Nagaraj et al. (2009). Surveys of university students are used by Nai-Peng Tey et al. (2009) to gauge the extent to which ethnocentrism is perpetuated through higher education. Finally, interviews with mixed-marriage families conducted by Beverly Siaw-Yuin Chong (2009) and Shyamala Nagaraj (2009) provide a lens through which to examine and challenge racial obsessions at societal and institutional levels.


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Author Biography

Adam D Tyson, Universiti Utara Malaysia

College of Law, Government and International Studies, Universiti Utara Malaysia