Student Activism in Malaysia: Crucible, Mirror, Sideshow

Overview

This work traces the early rise and subsequent decline of politically effective student activism in Malaysia. During the 1970s, the state embarked on a project of "intellectual containment" that both suppressed ongoing mobilization of university students and delegitimized further activism. That project has been notably successful in curbing student protest, erasing a legacy of past engagement, and stemming the production of potentially subversive new ideas. Innovative student proposals for reform that were once ...

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Overview

This work traces the early rise and subsequent decline of politically effective student activism in Malaysia. During the 1970s, the state embarked on a project of "intellectual containment" that both suppressed ongoing mobilization of university students and delegitimized further activism. That project has been notably successful in curbing student protest, erasing a legacy of past engagement, and stemming the production of potentially subversive new ideas. Innovative student proposals for reform that were once sanctioned and even welcomed (within bounds) are now illicit and discouraged, reflecting not only changes in Malaysia's political regime, but changes in the political culture overall. This incisive study sheds new light on the dynamics of mobilization and on the key role of students and universities in postcolonial political development.

This analysis is based on extensive research, including interviews with dozens of past and present student activists and a close study of archives, government reports, firsthand accounts, and student publications extending over decades. Student Activism in Malaysia traces how higher education and student activism have developed and interacted, beginning with the start of tertiary education in early twentieth-century Singapore and extending to present-day Malaysia. In the process, Weiss calls into question the conventional wisdom that Malaysian students—and Malaysians overall—have become "apathetic." The author demonstrates that this apparent state of apathy is not inevitable, cultural, or natural, but is the outcome of a sustained project of pacification and depoliticization carried out by an ambitiously developmental state.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Because cohorts of university students come and go, their experiences and memories are readily lost to history. This loss is especially acute when the state seeks to constrain student political life, as it has in Malaysia. Meredith Weiss's book works against such generational amnesia and intellectual containment by analyzing the issues and struggles that have concerned Malaysia’s student activists over the last fifty years. She examines the myriad forces that have made Malaysian campuses places of both political ferment and apathy. This work not only reclaims the history of student activism in Malaysia, it illuminates how university students perform a peculiar and vital social function internationally."—Thomas Williamson, Department of Anthropology, St. Olaf College

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780877277545
  • Publisher: Southeast Asia Program Publications
  • Publication date: 1/25/2012
  • Pages: 316
  • Product dimensions: 6.90 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Meredith L. Weiss is associate professor of political science at the University at Albany, SUNY. She is the author of Protest and Possibilities: Civil Society and Coalitions for Political Change in Malaysia, as well as numerous articles and book chapters; and coeditor of Between Protest and Passivity: Understanding Student Activism in Asia; Political Violence in South and Southeast Asia: Critical Perspectives; and Social Movements in Malaysia: From Moral Communities to NGOs. Her research focuses on issues of political mobilization and change, civil society, human rights, and collective identity in Southeast Asia.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1 Campus: Politics-Politics: Campus 1

Understanding Student Activism 4

When Student Activism Develops 13

Activists in a State in Transition: Malaysia and Its Context 17

Objectives, Scope, and Methods 23

Overview of Volume 25

Chapter 2 In the Beginning: Pre-Independence 27

Setting the Stage: Early Radicalism in the Chinese Schools 36

The Development of Associational Life among Students 40

Political Clubs 44

Moving Beyond the Campus 46

Nationalism and Nation-Building 54

The Rise of the Student Left 62

The "University Case" 67

The Fajar Trial and National Service Protests 72

On Campus and Beyond 78

Which Students Engaged and Why 81

The Students' Position 83

Chapter 3 Early Years of Independence: 1957-1966 89

Institutional Developments 91

Students and Developing Postcolonial Politics 100

Repositioning Students in Society 121

Chapter 4 The Heydays of Protest: 1967-1974 127

Institutional Development 130

The New Legal Landscape 133

Associational Life 140

Students' Involvement in Formal Politics 145

With the People: Undergraduates and the Malay Poor 151

International Dimensions: The Vietnam War and More 163

The Awakening Specter of Communalism on Campus 169

Dakwah 176

Meanwhile, in Singapore ... 177

Advent of a New Order 180

Chapter 5 Curbing Politics and Intellectuals: 1975-1998 187

Institutional Developments 189

Repositioning Students in Society 204

Religious Revival on Campus 212

Situating Students and the Campus 225

Chapter 6 Perking Up and Cracking Down: 1998-2010 229

Institutional Developments 231

The Reformasi Era 241

Beyond Reformasi: Social Justice, Islam, and Networks 253

Campaigns and Elections 256

Student Involvement in National Elections 266

Media 269

Race and Religion 274

Resituating Universities and Students 276

Chapter 7 The Politics of Intellectual Containment 281

Student Movements as Social Movements 283

Situating Student Movements in Malaysia 290

Intellectual Containment 292

Index 295

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