Mobile Malaysians

PhD project (2010–2014)

Brain drain and skilled migration are crucial issues affecting migrant-sending and receiving countries in an increasingly globalised world. In this project, I conducted archival research (colonial Malaya/Singapore and post-colonial Malaysia, 1820s–1970s) and in-depth interviews with 67 mobile Malaysians (i.e. tertiary-educated Malaysian emigrants) in London, Singapore, and Kuala Lumpur. I argue that the culture of migration amongst these mobile Malaysians must be understood as an outcome of British colonial legacies – in particular, an ethnic-stratified education system, constructed meanings of race and citizenship, and differentiated citizenship – that have been inherited and exacerbated by the post-colonial Malaysian state. I show how these colonial legacies in turn circumscribe mobile Malaysians’ citizenship and migration practices (including their education plans, citizenship strategies, and migration pathways). In addition to insights to inform Malaysia’s reverse brain drain, education, and differentiated citizenship policies, this research contributes towards a postcolonial approach to contemporary migration. This enriches academic and policy debates in human geography and migration, and advances emergent debates amongst migration scholars on the potential of postcolonial approaches to critically disrupt existing understandings of migration.

Project website & blog: Mobile Malaysians

Publications and other outputs from this project


Journal articles

Book chapters

Conference proceedings

  • Koh, S.Y. (2012) Brain Drain or Banal Everyday Lives: Malaysians (and Ex-Malaysians) Negotiating Emotional Geographies of Diasporic Citizenship and Mobilities. In M. H. Shah & S. Hassan (Eds.) MSC8 Proceedings: Selected Full Papers (pp. 141–158). Kajang: Malaysian Social Science Association

Other writings on web-based scholarly platforms

Other writings

Media interviews and mentions