New publication: Journal article

Koh, S.Y. (2014) How and Why Race Matters: Malaysian-Chinese Transnational Migrants Interpreting and Practising Bumiputera-differentiated Citizenship. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2014.937327


Malaysia’s pro-Bumiputera (‘sons of soil’) affirmative action policies have led to significant non-Bumiputera Malaysian-Chinese emigration. Drawing from in-depth interviews with 40 Malaysian-Chinese transnational migrants in Singapore and the UK, this article contextualises their citizenship interpretations and practices to Malaysia’s racially differentiated citizenship and ethnopolitics. This article finds that citizenship has been interpreted along the conflicting themes of (1) loyalty and primordial belonging towards ‘Malaysia’ (understood as a combination of place of birth, nostalgic memories, imagined ethnonational community and the presence of social networks); and (2) insecurity and distrust towards ‘the Malaysian government’. Hence, citizenship is primarily interpreted and practised culturally, and not politically. Furthermore, citizenship is pragmatically strategised to ensure individual and familial security vis-à-vis a government that has been viewed with distrust. Using the Malaysian case, this article highlights the need to consider how and why transnational migrants’ citizenship interpretations and practices continue to be circumscribed by notions of race.


Bumiputera-differentiated citizenship, Ethnopolitics, Malaysian-Chinese, Nationality, Race

NOTE: Contact me if you don’t have institutional access, and would like to read the full article.


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