Translating Bangsa Malaysia

Toward a New Cultural Politics of Malaysian-ness

Author: Sharmani Patricia Gabriel


This article seeks to interrogate the idea of "race," nation, and multiculturalism in Malaysia from the perspective of cultural studies, in particular that of cultural translation and postcolonial theory. It employs the concept of cultural translation to examine the processes of cultural change and transfer both from the perspective of state policies and nationalistic discourses as well as the discourses and practices of the people. The central idea is to argue for a more flexible understanding of race identities in the move toward a conceptualizing of Malaysian-ness as a national and cultural identity that takes into account the social practices and experiences, imaginings, and expressions of the people. A reading of Yasmin Ahmad's film Sepet lends credence to the article's assertions about the emergence of trans-racial identities on the ground that contest the pedagogic stability of state-defined race identities. The article enters debates on the politics of race and identity in Malaysia through the controversial state-initiated concept of Bangsa Malaysia, which it here advances as an alternative model of multiculturalism and national belonging that effectively displaces the National Culture Policy as well as other hegemonic cultural formulations and political constructions.

Countries: Malaysia

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September 2011
© E.D. Starin