Between the local and the state: practices and discourses of identity among the Kadazan of Sabah (East Malaysia)
2011-02-25T15:19:42Z (GMT) by
Abstract This thesis investigates the effects of the nation-building agenda carried out by the Malaysian state on the sense of collective belonging of the Kadazan people of the Bornean State of Sabah. The thesis includes a reconstruction of the formation of the two most important forms of collective identification, the nation and the ethnic group, and the analysis of the way in which Kadazan villagers identify themselves in relation to discourses circulating in various media and the practices in which they get involved in their everyday life. Kadazan villagers consistently show a rejection of the state propaganda and a general unwillingness to identify themselves as members of the Malaysian nation, which I attribute to their marginal position within the Malaysian state. They more often identify themselves as members of their ethnic group or village, collective forms of identification that seem to allow for a higher degree of participation in their definition than the national one. The empirical analysis of the everyday self-identification in relation to practices and discourses shows a complex picture, as Kadazan villagers differently situate themselves as Malaysian, Kadazan, Sabahan and members of their village in different occasions and contexts. One of the explanations of this fact lies in the ambiguous character of Malaysian nation-building, promoting unity while at the same time treating citizens differently depending on their ethnic and religious background. The official discourse and practice of ethnic and religious differentiation has been deeply internalised by the Kadazan and has become a primary reason for their opposition to the state, as they feel treated as second-class citizens. Another explanation for the development of a sense of belonging to various collective forms of identification among the Kadazan rests in the fact that their recent history has made these significant as expression of different sets of shared lived experiences, providing the basis for the development of senses of commonality with members of the national, sub-national, ethnic and village communities at the same time.