The fictions of a nation : Race, state, and identity in life writing from Malaysia

Morais, Claire Dawn
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Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Hawaii at Manoa, 2008.
In discussing how identity has been articulated and continues to evolve in Malaysia, this study sheds light on how race has informed nation. It examines where articulations of ethnicity have led as the country has joined the ranks of newly industrialized economies. It points to issues of class and gender in the stories of how Malaysians see themselves. This small corpus of life writing, expressed in several different genres, suggests that the contest for hegemony once waged by waves of colonizers and centered on the key ports of Melaka, Penang, and Singapore is today a contest waged largely within national borders for the right to frame identity as citizens. The maritime traffic that brought Chinese and Indians in large numbers to serve the needs of a colonial economy created a diaspora space in which new immigrants encountered those already there and raised questions about who belonged and who did not. That need led to a conversation started by the departing British colonial government and the middle class elites to whom it relinquished power in 1957. It is a conversation that continues to this day, but its tone has changed, becoming more ethnocentric and more subject to intrusive attempts by the state to control public discourse. Racial polarization and a more authoritarian state have not helped provide answers to questions of identity and belonging that are satisfactory to descendants of immigrants for whom Malaysia has been, for several generations, the only place they consider home.
This is a study of nation, race, and identity in Malaysia through a number of life writing texts. The texts examined are written works as well as independent films and visual culture expressed through the mass media and the internet. These works explore the framing of identity in the Malay States from colonial times to the present and offer fresh perspectives on what it means to be Malaysian in ways that challenge state prescriptions and suggest that the nation is still very much a work in progress. They also call into question Euro-centric ideas about what constitutes a national identity and how nations emerge.
Includes bibliographical references (leaves xxx-xxx).
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281 leaves, bound 29 cm
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Theses for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (University of Hawaii at Manoa). English; no. 5114
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