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
- Koh, S.Y. (2017) Race, Education, and Citizenship: Mobile Malaysians, British Colonial Legacies, and a Culture of Migration. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
- Koh, S.Y. (2015) How and Why Race Matters: Malaysian-Chinese Transnational Migrants Interpreting and Practising Bumiputera-Differentiated Citizenship. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 41(3), 531-550.
- Koh, S.Y. (2015) Temporalities of Citizenship: Malaysian-Chinese Skilled Migrants in Singapore and Returnees to Malaysia. Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 24(1), 3-27.
- Koh, S.Y. (2015) State-led Talent Return Migration Programme and the Doubly Neglected ‘Malaysian Diaspora’: Whose Diaspora, What Citizenship, Whose Development? Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography, 36(2), 183-200. [PDF]
- Koh, S.Y. (2018). Diverse Geographies of Tertiary-Educated Malaysian-Chinese Migrants: Anything New? In Y.W. Chan & S.Y. Koh (Eds.) New Chinese Migrations: Mobility, Home, and Inspirations (pp. 174-190). Abingdon, Oxon; New York: Routledge.
- Koh, S.Y. (2017). Geographies of Education-Induced Skilled Migration: The Malaysian Case. In T. Abebe & J. Waters (Eds.), Labouring and Learning (pp. 221-242), Vol.10 of Skelton, T. (Editor-in-chief) Geographies of Children and Young People. Singapore: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-981-287-032-2_15
- Koh, S.Y. (2016). Contextualising Geographies of Education-Induced Migration: How Mobile Malaysians End Up in Singapore, London and Kuala Lumpur. In K.F. Lian, M. Rahman and Y. Alas (Eds.) International Migration in Southeast Asia: Continuities and Discontinuities (pp. 83-102). Springer.
- Koh, S.Y. (2015). Unpacking ‘Malaysia’ and ‘Malaysian Citizenship’: Perspectives of Malaysian-Chinese Skilled Diasporas. In A. Christou & E. Mavroudi (Eds.), Dismantling Diasporas: Rethinking the Geographies of Diasporic Identity, Connection and Development (pp. 129-143). Surrey; Burlington: Ashgate
- Koh, S.Y. (2014) Diasporic ‘Unbelonging’ to Malaysia and Singapore: Second-Generation Malaysian-Chinese Migrants in Singapore. In Y. W. Chan, D. Haines, J. H. X. Lee (Eds.) The Age of Asian Migration: Continuity, Diversity, and Susceptibility Volume I (pp. 358-372). Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
- 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
- Koh, S.Y. (2014). Encountering the Archival Research ‘Field’. LSE Field Research Method Lab. 29 Mar
- Koh, S.Y. (2012). Everyday Lives of the Malaysian Diaspora. New Mandala: New Perspectives on Mainland Southeast Asia. College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University (ANU). 11 January
- Koh, S.Y. (2012) Numbers Matter, Don’t They? Outstation: For Malaysians Abroad, Returnees and Everyone In-Between. 25 April
Media interviews and mentions
- (2014, 31 Aug) Merdeka 2014: What Makes Us Malaysians? BFM: The Business Radio Station.