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British colonial legacies, citizenship habitus, and a culture of migration: mobile Malaysians in London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur

Koh, Sin Yee (2014) British colonial legacies, citizenship habitus, and a culture of migration: mobile Malaysians in London, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis examines the relationship between British colonial legacies and a culture of migration amongst mobile Malaysians (tertiary-educated Malaysians with transnational migration experience). Drawing from Bourdieu’s “habitus”, I propose the concept of “citizenship habitus” – a set of inherited dispositions about the meanings and significance of citizenship – to understand how and why mobile Malaysians carry out certain citizenship and migration practices. These practices include: firstly, interpreting and practising Malaysian citizenship as a de-politicised and primordial (ethno)national belonging to “Malaysia” that is conflated with national loyalty; and secondly, migration (especially for overseas education) as a way of life (i.e. a culture of migration) that may not be recognised as a means of circumventing pro-Bumiputera (lit. “sons of soil”) structural constraints. Methodologically, I draw from my reflexive reading of archival documents and interview-conversations with 67 mobile Malaysians: 16 in London/UK, 27 in Singapore, six in other global locations, and 18 returnees. I argue that mobile Malaysians’ citizenship and migration practices have been informed by three British colonial legacies: firstly, the materialising of race and Malay indigeneity; secondly, the institutionalisation of race-based school systems and education as an aspired means towards social mobility; and thirdly, race-based political representation and a federal state consisting of an arbitrary amalgamation of socio-economically and historically diverse territories. The Malayan Emergency (1948-1960) further instilled state-led focus on “racial tensions”, resulting in default authoritative strategies to govern, educate, and motivate the citizenry. These colonial legacies, inherited and exacerbated by the post-colonial Malaysian state, contributed to the institutionalisation of Malaysia’s Bumiputera-differentiated citizenship and race-based affirmative action policies, with particular effects on education, migration and social mobility. By adopting a postcolonial approach to migration phenomena, this thesis highlights the longevity of British colonial legacies with long-lasting effects on Malaysia’s contemporary skilled migration, both in terms of migration geographies and citizenship practices.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2014 Sin Yee Koh
Library of Congress subject classification: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GF Human ecology. Anthropogeography
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Sets: Departments > Geography and Environment
Supervisor: Shin, Hyun Bang and Mercer, Claire

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