"Shanty towns", "spontaneous dwellings", and "squatter colonies" are established topics in the literature on "Third World" cities and urbanization. Until recently, these discussions were customarily framed within two contending theoretical schools. Proponents of the "modernization" thesis view the emergence of "modern" cities as an improvement over "ancient" indigenous cities. Thus, the dramatic demographic growth and urban problems characteristic of many "Third World" cities are evaluated as a kind of "pseudo-urbanization" arising from an imperfect replication of the tertiarization of the industrial "First World". In contrast, adherents of the "dependency" school depict "Third World" urbanization as integrally linked to the transnational expansion and logic of modern capitalism. The ills of urban poverty and the lack of decent, affordable public housing are thus manifestations of the uneven and inequitable distribution of resources and surplus accumulation; a phenomena, moreover, not just confined to the "Third World" but also endemic in the most affluent of "First World" cities (Armstrong and McGee 1985; Gilbert and Gugler 1992).
Amongst others, Henri Lefebvre's complex and monumental work, The Production of Space (1991) is centrally pertinent to the purposes of this paper. In brief, Lefebvre contends that the "city", as both a built environment and lived space, cannot be conceived merely as a neutral and empty container of social, economic, and political activities. Instead, the "city" should be viewed as the domain where episodes of the hegemonic expansion and capitalist drama are being played out (see also Harvey 1989; Jacobs 1996; King 1990). More specifically, he argues that capitalism has survived largely because it is the spatialization of modernity and the strategic planning of everyday life that has allowed its essential relations of production to be reproduced. In the organization of the built environment then, space is commodified. In other words, space becomes a social and political product.(1)
In this paper, I follow in part the trajectory of this thesis in the ethnographic context of Kuala Lumpur, the capital city of Malaysia. In juxtaposing current energetic efforts at erasing "squatter colonies" with an equally energetic push to construct a recognizable post-colonial city on the global landscape, I suggest that both occupy historically contingent positions, and that they aptly index the nature of changes that are engendered in the wake of globalized capitalism. To further appreciate the significance of the interplay between local and supralocal cultural processes, I also draw from Ulf Hannerz's formulation of "creolization" which, in essence, theoretically takes a position in between the two contending poles introduced at the beginning of this paper. Whilst contemporary asymmetrical capital and cultural flows between the metropolitan "centre" and the "periphery" index the historical legacy of an extractive colonialism and cultural imperialism, they are also not monolithic nor one-sided. Thus, the contemporary concerns of city management in Kuala Lumpur bear the marks of a hybridized cultural exchange. They depict a variation of what Richard O'Connor has argued elsewhere as the distinguishing trope of indigenous urbanism where emerging nation-states succumb to urban interests by remaining heavily mortgaged to urban forms (O'Connor 1995, p. 39). Or, to put it another way, in the current milieu "squatter colonies" are rendered as "heterotopias of deviation" -- sites where behaviour and meaning are deemed deviant in relation to a mean or norm (Foucault 1986).
Redefining Land and Landscapes
The contemporary dominant notion of land as a commodity that can be owned, transferred, mortgaged, and sold is essentially a colonialist construct. In British Malaya, as elsewhere in other European colonies, the cultural category of property was constituted by a combination of intertwining practices. The "opening up of an empty country" for large-scale commercialized cultivation and mining activities was not at cross purposes with the demands of "gentlemanly capitalism"(2) and a Christian-infused civilizing culture. With the introduction of the notion of private ownership, land registration documents, and the aid of scientific cadastral mapping, the belief that there was ownership before occupation or tilling of the land dislodged indigenous practices and the local economy. From the 1870s onwards when the British administration consolidated its hold first in the Straits Settlements and then progressively over the whole of the peninsula, the relationship between land and settlers became more entangled and problematic.
In the pre-colonial period, the peninsula was populated mainly by a variety of peoples with varied notions of land tenure and cultivation. With the advent of the colonial period, the cross-cultural encounters between foreign powers and the local dikes engendered over time the "invention of tradition" (Hobsbawn and Ranger 1983) through a skewed portrayal of customs and customary law. For instance, William Maxwell, who was instrumental in drawing up regulations for another kind of land tenure as well as the judiciary system, made use of Malay legal texts (for example, the Malacca Code) in stating these principles, and evolving a land legislation that attempted to create a class of settled peasant cultivators. He observed:
Land is abundant, but the population is sparse; there is no restriction upon the selection and appropriation of forest land, and a proprietary right is created by the clearing of the land followed by continuous occupation. Forest land and land which, though once cleared, has been abandoned and bears no tract of appropriation (such as fruit trees still existing) are said technically to be tanah mati, or "dead land". He who, by clearing or cultivation, or by building a house, causes that to live which was dead (menghidopkan bumi), acquires a proprietary right in the land, which now becomes tanah hidop ("live land") in contradistinction to tanah mati. His right to the land is absolute as long as occupation continues, or as long as the land bears signs of appropriation. (Maxwell 1884, pp. 77ff; emphasis original)
The manner of land acquisition was termed meneroka or membuka tanah (literally, "to open up land"), or if done on a larger scale, membuat negeri ("to open up a state") or berbuat negeri ("to create a state").(3) At various points of Maxwell's translations of various classical Malay legal texts -- as well as Winstedt's, another colonial administrator that came after him -- there is exhibited a tendency to impose English notions of land ownership over native land practices. This was largely so, according to Paul Kratoska, because whereas
in Europe [where] man-land relations were the determining feature of the economy, a situation made possible because all land was owned, either by the state or privately, and ownership gave exclusive rights to land ... in the indigenous Malay economy, human labour was the form of capital that underlay economic relations. (Kratoska 1985, p. 19)
No formal nor centralized legal machinery existed to enforce these "proprietary rights" over the land and it was thus desirable that these pioneers consolidated labour in order to sustain food production over a period of time.
Thus, at an early stage, British administrators had chosen to reject indigenous notions of land tenure mainly on the grounds that the nature of the Malay legal codes was unsuitable for a commercial and monetized economy (Lim Teck Ghee 1977, pp. 17ff). What was envisaged was a system that gave security of tenure to landholders and land which was free from rival claims and encumbrances. By the 1830s, a series of land enactments had been passed for the Straits Settlement colonies of Penang and Malacca, and which would later become a basis for a standardized land tenure for the whole peninsula. In 1880, William Maxwell was dispatched to South Australia to study the Torrens System of land administration. Subsequently, he integrated the Perak Regulations of 1879 with the Torrens System to form the basis of the land laws for Selangor. Modelled on English land law, the new system of land tenure reconfigured all land as ultimately held by the Malay ruler, and who had the power to alienate land.
Alienated land was now in lease form and subjected to payment of an annual premium and fixed quit-rent. A proper survey was to be made before any issue of titles for the expressed purpose of facilitating or settling land claims. Two methods of land alienation were introduced. The leasehold affected areas categorized as town lands and large holdings which between 1897 and 1926 were lands of 100 acres and below, and after 1926, lands less than ten acres. To accommodate the traditional or customary mode of land acquisition as practised before, alienation by registration was also adopted. Village lands and new holdings developed by Malays were entered into mukim registers which meant that Malay-held land was now mortaged or transferred. Embodied in these seminal regulations were the interlocking concepts of allowing considerable latitude for the appropriation of land by immigrants and foreign investors, and the preservation of the "native" rural peasant identity. With these strategic redefinitions, foreign and local entrepreneurs were able to acquire huge tracts of lands for plantation agriculture and mining.
In addition to the more obvious fact of servicing capitalist interests, various scholars have suggested that attention should be given also to studying how practices in the colonies were spun out of a fabric of European cultural notions about desired progress and aesthetics, and how they, in turn, reconstituted local discourse.(4) It has been argued that the spatial imaginary, involving the discursive practices of mapping and naming, has a significant place in the imperialist project. The colonizers' gazes typically incorporated a developmental vision of human and social progress. To varying degrees, these authors share the discursive phantasm that a terrain is "pristine", "empty", and "untamed" until occupied and cultivated. Boundless space was viewed as chaotic, meaningless, and threatening. The spatializing power of discourse was integral to the colonization process. Together with a host of other devices the writing regime played an important role in the strategy to appropriate space by reorganizing it into a network of discrete spaces and thus rendering it recognizable in the colonizers' own terms. The objectification of the world required that it be represented as ordered and certain, and as a world akin to an endless spectacle and exhibition (Mitchell 1988). Thus, a typical trope of colonialist power and desire demands that the space it occupies be unbounded, readable as a text, and that its reality is coincident with the emergence of an imperialist narrative and history. Moreover, colonialist discourse is characteristically non-dialogic, and its enunciation unitary and unmarked by the trace of difference (Bhaba 1993). As an entity which is abstract, usable, malleable, homogeneous, and universal in all its qualities, the conquest of space is deemed a fait accompli.
Europeans also brought to the colonies their own moral sensibilities about the weather and health. These were often translated and projected into oppositional binary terms of hostile and immoral (or amoral) conditions. The tropics, for instance, were "dark lands" populated by pagans and heathens, and who needed enlightenment and "benevolent assimilation". Alternatively, traveller-explorers spoke romantically of preserving the natural beauty and riches of paradisical landscapes, and the interests of simple, effeminate, and child-like natives from the clutches of Western and Asian capitalistic exploiters (Savage 1984). For British colonial administrators who had to ensure a minimal level of productivity and social order, they regarded as inevitable the physical, mental, and moral deterioration for anyone who stayed too long in the tropics. A number of hill-stations (for instance, on Penang Hill, Maxwell Hill, and Cameron Highlands) were constructed as temporary recluses from the debilitating heat but even then children could not be reared beyond a certain age and had to be sent back to the homeland for "otherwise they will degenerate physically and morally" (Keltie 1897, p. 315).
A preoccupation with the moral landscapes of the colonies overlapped with a perceived malaise with the shifting material conditions of European cities themselves. In Victorian Britain, the Industrial Revolution had catalysed the phenomenal growth of cities and in its wake massive social upheaval. New urban streets disturbed and disoriented most bourgeois Victorians with their traffic noise, dirty pavements, smells from tanneries and industries, street trading, and entertainers who plied their wares or begged in "a wholly unregulated fashion" (Wilson 1991, p. 29). Victorian intellectual culture was also heavily influenced by evolutionist reasoning which identified a lower order of life with certain living conditions. With a concern for delimiting specialized functions and hierarchies, a highly elaborate scheme of differentiated spaces between the workplace, residential areas, and the burial grounds was devised and put into place by town planners. Social reformers (notably Lord Shafesbury, Patrick Geddes, and Octavia Hill) tended to view urban life as moral cesspools. They supported movements to create parks, squares, and children's playgrounds to bring the moral sense of the natural and idyllic countryside into the urban built landscape. Through town-planning policing and regulation, elements of which were later transplanted to the peripheral colonies, urban life in the metropolitan centre was progressively re-ordered.
In British Malaya, a combination of liberal immigration policies, land policies, transportation, and an extractive economy had facilitated the genesis of new urban centres whilst eclipsing others (Lim Heng Kow 1978; see also Goh 1991). These colonial centres were not only conduits for transporting the produce of the hinterland onto the world market and distributing European consumer products into the hinterland, but were also sites where the civilizing forces of cleanliness, civility, and modernity were articulated. This colonialist politics of space was further informed by contemporary evolutionist theories and debates on human races and cultural differences. Demographic patterns and projections of various ethnic groups were assiduously monitored through periodic censuses which would later form the template for post-colonial social engineering (Hirschman 1987). The combined effect of these disparate yet interlocking forces was to engender an ethnoscape where there was largely a social and economic divide between non-Malay urban dwellers and Malay rural kampung ("village") residents.
"The Squatter Problem"
Since the 1970s this legacy of spatial duality has been systematically unyoked, mainly through the possibilities opened up by the New Economic Policy (NEP). Through this vehicle, ethnic Malays are particularly encouraged to "modernize" by gravitating to the urban centres and thus dissolve the ethnic spatial divide. Preferential quotas in education, commercial, and civil service opportunities have all helped to catalyse this rural-urban drift. Additionally, the explicit turn towards an industrialization programme and the setting up of public enterprises by the government have substantially increased Malay participation in the urban wage sector.
The major destination for migrants has been the Klang Valley, encompassing the capital city of Kuala Lumpur and its suburb Petaling Jaya. Largely for financial reasons, a significant majority of them resorted to "self-help" housing, choosing to set up their homes around urban kampung ("villages") established generations earlier during the colonial era or clearing new areas for habitation. Their increased visibility in the capital city eventually aroused a number of official studies, reports, and academic research.(5) Official discourse on squatter colonies has generally oscillated between assigning them to pathological and patronage categories. In the late 1960s, a report prepared on behalf of the Ministry of Local Government and Housing aptly summed up the dominant posture then. Squatter colonies were characterized as "seedbeds for thugs, secret societies and other racketeers ...". He further argued that unchecked squatting challenges the status of government as agencies for maintaining law and order; results in an increase in crime, juvenile delinquency, and a wide variety of social problems, loss of substantial revenues to the government; affects the physical development of Kuala Lumpur, its economic, social, and political stability; inhibits economic growth and investment; and reduces its image both at home and overseas (cited in Azizah 1994, p. 30).
Whilst squatter colonies were usually described in terms of negative Identities -- as "eye-sores", "death-traps", places of "squalor", "fire-hazards", and a "nest for criminals" -- it was also insisted that the provision of essential amenities to certain colonies was necessary on humanitarian grounds only and to curb the outbreak of diseases. Contemporary newspaper accounts also routinely reported government officials and politicians underscoring the stance that squatting activities would not be condoned, and that the legal rights of landowners over squatters would be upheld. The National Land Code (1965) was cited as incontrovertible evidence that squatting is a criminal activity. The legislation of the Squatter Clearance Regulations 1969 provided additional leverage for eviction exercises. Squatters who resisted eviction were "law-breakers".
Early urban managerial strategies initially placed an emphasis on eviction and demolition, especially for those colonies situated in commercially strategic areas. However, this drastic mode of action was subsequently diluted. A persistent public outcry, the advent of the NEP in the wake of the 13 May "ethnic riots" (in 1969), and the interventions of the World Bank's developmental philosophy of the day were some of the motivating factors. Beginning in 1971, budgetary allocations and targets for low-cost housing were set out in the five-year national development plans. However, detractors have pointed out that the public sector's achievement of these targets has been consistently low whilst the private sector has concentrated on constructing medium-priced and high-priced houses to the detriment of the urban poor. Additionally, because of the lack of financing facilities, a sizeable portion of the squatter population has persistently complained that they could not even afford the cheapest low-cost house. As an argument against relocation, the "poor housing conditions" of the colonies were not due to the inability to build good houses but more because of the absence of security in land tenure. A "sites and services" programme (advocated by the World Bank and a number of local non-governmental organizations [NGOs]) was eventually put in place. Housing lots were offered to entice squatters away from the city centre. However, it was subsequently reported that the results were not as satisfactory as hoped due to inadequate implementation, a lack of enthusiasm by local authorities, as well as the reluctance of squatters to be relocated elsewhere. In contrast, a constant refrain to the occasional visiting benevolent politician has been the request for the provision of free basic amenities (piped water, electricity, garbage disposal, sanitation).
As alluded to earlier, the phenomenon of widespread squatting and the growing Malay ethnic makeup of squatters also raised the unsettling spectre of discontent at the status quo for discerning administrators and politicians. Quite apart from humanitarian considerations, the possibility that these deprived conditions could become political breeding grounds for subversive and anti-national sentiments could not be taken lightly.(6) Subsequently, the posture of city authorities perceptibly shifted with the realization that "squatter activities could not be stopped, [as long as] they were unable to provide sufficient public housing for the urban poor" (Azizah 1994, p. 31). This resonated with the call of public interest groups for a long-term solution to the problem. What kinds of solutions that would be offered became more explicit in 1978. The "squatter policy" was eventually formulated after the Prime Minister had acknowledged the need for a more comprehensive study of the "squatter problem". The policy's overall objective was to reduce the numbers of squatters by incremental resettlement as well as a containment of their spatial expansion. Strategically, it combined various mechanisms for monitoring and controlling squatter activities as well as a number of interventionist programmes for improving the quality of life in the settlements.
The tenor of these recommendations was echoed once again in the Kuala Lumpur Draft Structure Plan published in 1984. At the policy level, squatters began to be portrayed in a more positive light. They were no longer "undesirable illegal occupants" but people that needed assistance in purchasing legal housing. A squatter register to distinguish "genuine" squatters from "professional squatters", squatter landlords, and petty investors was set up. To ensure that squatter houses and even small colonies did not materialize overnight in the capital city, an enforcement unit was formed to patrol and keep a close surveillance on the growth of rumah kilat ("lightning houses") and to remove any unauthorized repairs and extensions to dwellings. In their efforts to escape detection and reprisals, many squatters have subsequently spilled outside the Kuala Lumpur city administrative limits. At the same time, in line with its humanitarian face of the policy, basic amenities like communal water stand pipes were made increasingly available to a larger network of colonies but for a fee.
The Squatter Kampung as Anti-Utopia
Squatter colonies are complex heterogeneous and organic entities. In some cases, they are thriving and idyllic "urban villages" whilst in others they approximate the archetypal images of chaotic shanty towns and slums. These differences, I would argue, partly stem from the nature and extent of political patronage that has been consciously cultivated in the parochial history of each colony. For instance, in more established Malay settlements with a significant political vote-bank it would not be unusual to witness the whole range of basic amenities as well as kindergartens, meeting halls, and postal and telephone services. In these cases, residents have largely assumed the facticity of election promises given by politicians a generation ago that they be eventually given legal tenure. Subsequently, substantial efforts and finance have been incrementally spent on refurbishing and extending their houses. In other cases, Temporary Occupation Licences (TOLs) issued more as a monitoring measure have also unintentionally emboldened many to embark on investing in permanent structures. With acquired prosperity and in keeping with their upwardly mobile status, subsequent generations of Malay squatters have opted out of a kampung lifestyle in favour of modern housing. Moreover, younger people massaged by the prevailing imageries tend to regurgitate the view that residing in the kampung is discordant with the trajectory of modernity. Nevertheless, many have also chosen to remain firmly within their cloistered locality, a veritable oasis in the concrete jungle of the city. Significantly, the commonly cited aversion to resettlement into flats is expressed in terms of fears of the demise of a kampung spirit, and of being separated from kin, friends, and neighbours. Politicians, in turn, have been prone to say that squatters must be willing to adjust to the realities of urban life and to make way for "development" and "progress".
As alluded to earlier, the political fortunes of aspiring politicians are also tied up to these localities. If not actively mediating with the local authorities or procuring various benefits for the residents, they have to be seen at least as articulating and defending their interests. Although their plight could be championed by a host of political parties and voluntary groups, it is more often the case that electoral support is given to the incumbent politician (or ruling party) who is seen as able to secure concrete gains to the settlement. Since the mid-1980s, however, I would argue that there have been significant shifts, and the transformation of this culture of patronage is tied with the introduction of new kinds of economic and social processes promoted by the state.
Not long after taking office, the Mahathir administration announced that the Malaysian government would henceforth be committed to initiatives that would accelerate growth and increase efficiency in the country. These initiatives mirrored to a certain extent the changed ideological climate in the American and British contexts, as epitomized by both the Reagan and Thatcher administrations respectively (Jomo 1995, pp. 1 ff). The "Malaysia Incorporated" and "Look East" concepts were the first to be introduced but gradually receded in the development discourse. Nevertheless, central to both was the underlying notion that the country is to be viewed as a corporate entity in which the government provided the enabling environment in terms of infrastructure, deregulation, and liberalization but where the private sector assumed a major role in stimulating growth. Countries like Japan and Korea were initially looked to for valuable leads. In 1985 the Economic Planning Unit of the Prime Minister's Department issued its Guidelines for Privatisation which remained the centrepiece for privatization initiatives up to 1991. Claiming success for the economic changes that occurred in the intervening period, the government subsequently announced the Privatisation Master plan (PMP) in February 1991 which would provide the framework for the expansion and acceleration of the pace of privatization well into the next century. A unifying catch phrase that was coined by the Prime Minister to epitomize the telos of these processes was "Vision 2020" -- the year in which Malaysia would have reached the coveted "developed" nation-state status.
Privatization policies have given rise to a development discourse which increases the moral responsibility of providing an affordable roof-over-the-voter's-head on the shoulders of the private sector. In some cases, government agencies like the Selangor State Economic Development Corporation have adopted a "reverse privatization programme" where they collaborate with the private sector in developing "state land". A significant marker towards this trend were the amendments made to the Land Acquisition Act (in 1991) and the cancellation of Malay Reservation Land in selected parts of Selangor. The most controversial amendment provided powers to the state, allowing private property to be compulsorily acquired for any use that is deemed to be economically beneficial to the country's development. Detractors argued that this was a disturbing change to the past when such acquisitions were confined to "public purpose" or to "public utility" only. The amended section had the loophole of allowing acquired land to be later disposed of to an individual or a company for their own use. Other amendments rendered seeking legal recourse against such acquisitions redundant. In the heated debates before the amendments were passed in parliament, various high-ranking politicians argued that these amendments were necessary as "factories cannot be built on trees" and that more land was required for the benefit of housing the "landless rakyat". Again, detractors point out that it is the consistently poor showing towards providing affordable housing that constitutes the main problem.
Recent government efforts to rectify this have included guidelines which stipulate that schemes must set aside 30 per cent for low-cost houses with a ceiling tag. Whilst large commercial companies have been able to accommodate this requirement without a substantial reduction in profits, smaller developers generally view this as an unrealistic and troublesome imposition. With a growing middle-class consumer market, the current incentive is to venture into medium- and high-priced houses and apartments. Consumer watch groups have reported numerous smaller developers building one short of the minimum number of houses so as to avoid having to set aside 30 per cent of their scheme for low-cost housing. Even when these units are built, they are not necessarily well-received as there is not much choice in the matter. The quality of building materials, compact floor space (typically 550 to 600 square feet), and the prospect of climbing stairs are often areas of complaints especially for bigger families. In everyday conversations, "pigeon-holes" and "chicken-coops" are popular epithets used to describe these dwelling structures. Of late, various local authorities have themselves begun to acknowledge how confined domestic spaces -- what John Turner has termed "oppressive housing" in another context (cited in Gilbert and Gugler 1992) -- have inclined youths from large families to spend a substantial part of their time "loafing around" (lepak) in supermarkets and other public spaces.
Notwithstanding these grievances, the current demand for affordable housing is unrelenting. For opportunists, this is a welcome space for profiteering. Low-cost units supposedly reserved for the "urban poor" are sold at above the ceiling prices through "under counter" payments. At the kampung level, unscrupulous local leaders are provided with the opportunities for both financial and political gain. Allegations that these leaders act in concert with various government officials and developers in keeping residents uninformed or diverting low-cost units originally entitled to them are not uncommon (for instance, see Syed Hussin Ali 1998, Peneroka Bandar Menuntut Keadilan 1997). Concomitantly, there is also a thriving alternative real estate market for squatter houses.
Forced evictions have also notably intensified with the intention of transforming Kuala Lumpur into a "squatter-free city" by the year 2000, and to further enhance its "Garden City" profile. In and around Kuala Lumpur, numerous "squatter colonies" have been incrementally demolished to make way for monumentalist architectural structures, mega-shopping complexes, condominiums, the light-rail transit, and so forth.(7) The plight of squatters have, in turn, attracted the attention of several Kuala Lumpur-based NGOs. Squatter residents are encouraged not to accept passively the dictates of forced eviction but to negotiate as a collective voice with developers and local authorities for a mutually satisfactory solution. Local action committees formed at each kampung network with one another to share their experiences and disseminate vital information.(8) Eviction orders when served are subject to legal scrutiny. In order to regain the moral high ground and to negotiate from the position of strength, these NGOs also employ a tactical deconstruction and reframing of imputed social identities and categories. Besides employing the language of "human rights" and referring to the standards set by the United Nations Habitat Agenda (in particular, "The Istanbul Declaration" of 1996) subjugated practices in the form of precolonial notions with respect to the appropriation of land are also retrieved and repackaged.(9) The trope of "the illegal occupation of land" is particularly put to question. For instance, the labour of urban "squatters" is compared to the pioneering spirit of people who "opened up" land (meneroka tanah) in establishing farms and human settlements decades ago. It is contended that much human toil and personal financial costs were involved in transforming jungles, swamps, exhausted mining lands, river banks, railway reserves, unused grave sites, and so forth into hospitable and thriving human settlements and vegetable farms. To gloss over these kinds of investments by depicting "squatters" as "anti-development" if they refused to be resettled would be a gross misrepresentation of history. Indeed, the term "squatter" (setinggan) is put to question. To signify this inversion of the colonialist-capitalist notion of ownership through the privileging of title deeds, the phrase peneroka bandar ("urban settler") has been promoted as more appropriate. This approach harkens to the principles of "adverse possession" and "equity" which predates the formulation of The National Land Code (1965). An "urban settler" should then be able to claim legal possession of the land if he has shown evidence of occupation for a specified period of time, and if the titled landowner has not actively exerted his rights.
Squatter Colonies and the Global Ecumene
In an early formulation put forward by Robert Redfield and Milton Singer (1954), a distinction was made between cities that engendered "orthogenetic" and "heterogenetic" cultural transformations. "Orthogenetic cities" are associated with earlier forms of urbanism which were primarily ceremonial and literate centres that progressively refined "little traditions" into more sophisticated "great traditions". In contrast, "heterogenetic cities" are akin to present-day administrative and business cities which are prone to transform old cultures and traditions. A more detailed elaboration of what "orthogenesis" might entail was provided by Tambiah (1977). He examined the cosmological blueprints that informed the spatial ordering of a number of ancient cities and states in Southeast Asia. To characterize the existence of a mandala-like controlling core surrounded by outer layers of influence, he coined the phrase, "the galactic polity". Tambiah's engaging study of Buddhist Thailand where there is a centripetal, homogeneous, and concrete manifestation of power resonates with Benedict Anderson's (1990) explication of the cosmological and linguistic legacies that underpin and animate contemporary political cultures in Indicized Muslim Java.
These studies essentially suggest that Southeast Asian enduring notions of pre-colonial urbanisms have elitist spatial elaborations of status, prestige, and power. Society and spaces were structured and graded according to a classificatory and hierarchical grid by a controlling centre (O'Connor 1995). Moreover, since the advent of the colonial era the logic of a globalized industrial capitalism has also engendered new spatial templates over this earlier grid. Nevertheless, the cultural idiom of urban rule continues to depend substantially for its legitimation on the deployment of ideas and artifacts that originate from "outside" the locus of everyday life. The reimagination of the public culture of a postcolonial nation-state thus not only appropriates modernist ideas and practices but also feeds on pre-colonial legacies of patronage and social distinctions. For instance, in contrast to royal courts conferring status, extracting tributes, and claiming allegiance and loyalty, the modern state bureaucracy has largely assumed this function. Amongst others, it creates a large pool of public-sector jobs, provides an infrastructure for investment opportunities, and elaborates on a nationalist culture that is predominantly globalist and cosmopolitan in tenor.
From a Lefebvrean perspective, it has been noted that the "production of space" has particular relevance for understanding how "squatter colonies" are spatially embedded in urban landscapes. In further appreciating the significance of the interplay between local and supralocal cultural processes, Ulf Hannerz's notion of "creolization" is particularly suggestive. Creolization reintroduces a qualified emphasis of the process of "orthogenesis" for the modern-day metropolis in the global landscape, and takes a theoretical position that is situated between two poles of globalization. Proponents of "cultural synchronization" hold that present-day centre-periphery relationships will eventually lead to the disappearance of cultural differences. The scenario painted is that of a cultural homogenization mediated by the expansionist logic of an economic and cultural world-system. Modernization theory is a variant of this approach that implicitly masks cultural imperialism. At the other pole are arguments that depict a contrary position. Rather than modernization acting as a universal solvent of cultures, it is the expansion of core economies and metropolitan political influence that paradoxically promotes cultural heterogeneity. The keen contest over culture in the peripheral areas thus indexes the ideological turmoil that is engendered in the wake of global expansion.
Hannerz, in comparison, argues for a more nuanced understanding of asymmetrical cultural flows that include both national and transnational circuits. The state cultural apparatus of Third World nations whilst endeavouring to tie their "national cultures" more closely to the global ecumene by using the same organizational forms and technology as the centre also partake of setting up their own asymmetrical centre-periphery distinctions. In other words, there is a distributionist view of culture in contrast to culture regarded as a mere repository of meanings (Hannerz 1992, p. 15). Akin to the development of creole languages, he likens this creative interplay between the cultures of the "centre" and the "periphery" as a process of "creolization". Creolization inevitably entails a process of imitation and conforming to the dominant cultural apparatus. But whilst recognizing the asymmetrically structured nature of these exchanges, this framework also allows for "the periphery to talk back" as it creates new cultural commodities in a global market.
The recent economic crises notwithstanding, Malaysia has been awash with an unprecedented accumulation of wealth made possible through a buoyant economy for over a decade. In keeping with this particular moment of capital flow, a notable recent preoccupation has been the resignifying of former colonial spaces with new insignias of cultural autonomy and nationhood. Urban life is particularly conducive for the mobilization of the spectacle and it is the capital city, the "centre" of the post-colonial nation-state, which assumes the palpable site for cultural innovation and extravaganzas, and the fostering of nationalist pride and status. Together with other vehicles, prestige and monumentalist architectural projects act as visible and tangible markers contributing to the invention and management of a boundable nationalist culture in the context of a global stage.(9)
This is further buttressed through an official nationalism where the tropes of legitimate political authority and the right to rule are euphemized in the idioms of moral relations and metaphoric kinship. Especially during public religious festivals, Malaysians are exhorted to adhere to traditional Asian values, uphold racial harmony and religious tolerance, maintain their loyalties to ethnic leaders, and be grateful for the economic prosperity of the country. To reach the coveted "developed" status by the year 2020, a regime of religious morals, business ethics, and of thrift and hard work are commended as necessary ballasts against an excessively materialistic and individualistic Western-type society. Concomitantly, Malaysia is portrayed in tourist brochures as a cultural market-place, recognizable to both locals and foreigners. It is this particular phase of the cultural conversion of wealth into the urban built environment inscribed with nationalist aspirations and consumption habits which has thrown up formidable challenges for both government authorities and "squatter" residents. Whilst these "colonies" have a long chequered history ever since the colonial era, it is only in the recent milieu that they become particularly salient as a configuration of a kind of developmentalist discourse. "Squatter colonies" allow a nationalist notion of "development" to be charted and made more thinkable together with other marks of modernity like super highways, monumentalist structures, and sophisticated state-of-the-art communication networks. "Squatter colonies" are rendered, in Michel Foucault's terms (1986), "heterotopias of deviation"; sites where behaviour and meaning are deemed deviant in relation to an arbitrarily defined mean or norm. Whilst they are made to signify "absences" and places of "deprivation" needing redress in official discourse, this does not necessarily accord with actual lived experiences (Yeoh 1997). Moreover, rationalized concepts of the "city" as analogous to a social body in which poverty, disease, or social deviance are deemed as unavoidable malfunctions are more the effect of representational strategies that gloss over social and economic inequalities rather than the "fact" of the city, and of space that is experienced in everyday life (de Certeau 1984).
This paper has argued that "squatter colonies" possess a high symbolic capital in the landscape of the post-colonial city of Kuala Lumpur. Contemporary efforts at erasing these human settlements rely in part on legacies of the colonial past: amongst others, the aesthetics of a civilizing sensibility informed by the colonialist politics of space and the myriad legal instruments for maintaining social order. At the same time, these legacies are reconfigured as arising from the post-colonial milieu a self-conscious nationalist culture discernible on the global stage is being engineered. The largely buoyant and open economy of the country in the past two decades has not being insignificant in these entrepreneurial efforts. Nevertheless, the asymmetrical flows of capital and culture characteristic of such changes has remained intact. This is eloquently indexed by the constant flow of contesting discourses. For many disillusioned kampung residents, verbal promises made by previous generations of politicians have evaporated in the heat of development and progress. Not surprisingly, it is often alleged that the local authorities and elected political representatives are more in league with housing developers rather than safeguarding and protecting the interests of the ordinary electorate. For oppositional political parties and NGOs, these "colonies" provide strategic fodder for the criticisms of governmental rhetoric and priorities. For voluntary and religious organizations, the comparatively sub-standard living conditions of these "colonies" are convenient sites for turning their respective models of social redemption into partial reality. On all counts, to appropriate a well-known anthropological dictum, "squatter colonies" are "good to think".
Materials for this paper are largely derived from fieldwork conducted in a "squatter settlement" in Petaling Jaya (Malaysia) between 1994 and 1995. A brief follow-up research was also conducted in mid-1999. Helpful comments made by two anonymous reviewers of SOJOURN are gratefully acknowledged but the usual disclaimer applies.
(1.) Capitalism, Lefebvre (1991, p. 350) observes, "does not consolidate itself solely by consolidating its hold on the land, or solely by incorporating history's precapitalist formations. It also makes use of all the available abstractions, all available forms, and even juridical and legal fiction of ownership of things apparently inaccessible to privative appropriation (private property): nature, the earth, life energies, desires and needs. Spatial planning, which uses space as a multipurpose tool, has shown itself to be extremely effective."
(2.) The notion of "gentlemanly capitalism", formulated by P.J. Cain and A.G. Hopkins (1986, 1987), suggests that a new perspective on the long-run development of the British economy can be found by focusing on activities that were both profit-oriented and acceptable to those ranked as "gentleman". The "gentlemanly capitalists" were a complex group which included large landowners, professional classes, and new elements such as the wealthier private bankers and merchant bankers who dominated the Bank of England. They were of particular importance, not only because their wealth exceeded that of the leading industrialists, but also because gentlemanly occupations conferred a degree of prestige that guaranteed privileged access to political influence and power.
(3.) These practices were categorized as "customary laws" or adat which consisted of a blend of traditional Malay customs, Islamic inheritance laws, and other indigenous influences. Adat acquired a technical legal definition in nineteenth century British Malaya, British Borneo, and Netherland East Indies.
(4.) Mary Louise Pratt, for instance, has characterized colonial encounters as occasions for ideological self-redefinitions where "the systematizing of nature in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries represented not only an European discourse about non-European worlds ... but [also] an urban discourse about non-urban worlds, and a lettered, bourgeois discourse about non-lettered peasant worlds" (Pratt 1992, p. 34).
(5.) By 1990 it was reported that the urban population constituted 50 per cent of the total population of the country. Precise statistics on the squatter population are notoriously difficult to ascertain given the fluidity of the situation. In 1992 it was estimated that about 13 per cent of the 2.9 million residents (377,000) in the Klang Valley were squatters, and that this figure would expand with an annual in-migration of 20,000 (Azizah 1994, p. 100).
(6.) Space does not allow me to elaborate on the security problems that squatting was seen to have posed to the government during the communist insurgency period, "The Emergency" (1948-60). Nevertheless, see Loh (1988).
(7.) Squatter residents are typically housed in compact interim lodgings called rumah panjang ("long houses"). Whilst these lodgings are usually sited close to the residents' original abode, there has been also numerous documented cases where relocation has meant being transplanted to distant and unfamiliar places. Moreover, although intended to be a stop-gap measure, these spartan and barrack-like structures have become, in many cases, enforced homes for thousands of families for a decade (or more) because projects have been delayed or abandoned.
(8.) In mid-1999, an unprecedented gathering of about 500 rumahpanjang residents in the Kuala Lumpur-Petaling Jaya region was organized to convey their resolutions to a city council official.
(9.) Urban settlers have also lobbied for the repeal of various laws that facilitate forced eviction and criminalized individuals who resist eviction, namely, The Land Acquisition Act 1980 (Amended), The Emergency Ordinance 1969, The Public Order & Prevention of Crime Ordinance, and The Internal Security Act 1960.
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Yeoh Seng Guan is Lecturer at Sunway College, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.…