State-Led Modernization and the New Middle Class in Malaysia

By Abdul Rahman Embong | Go to book overview

Preface

This study of the state-led modernization and the new middle class in Malaysia is the result of the research I carried out for several years in the 1990s. The study – focusing on the new Malay middle class – first traces the evolution of the Malaysian class structure, and shows the role of the state as well as capitalist development in promoting structural changes and the formation of the modern classes, particularly the new Malay middle class. From this macro-historical perspective, the study presents detailed analyses of the characteristics and the socio-economic and political roles of the new Malay middle class and its likely role in Malaysia in the twenty-first century. The study is based on the empirical investigations (surveys, interviews and observations) I conducted between 1995 and 2000, with a substantial part of it being based on a survey of 284 new Malay middle-class respondents conducted in 1996–97 in the metropolitan Klang Valley (Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya), and two provincial towns in the east coast states of Peninsular Malaysia – Kota Bahru in Kelantan and Kuala Terengganu in Terengganu. Nevertheless, the political twists and turns in Malaysia following the 1997–98 Asian financial and economic crises – the most significant event being the political crisis triggered by the sacking of Anwar Ibrahim, Malaysia's former Deputy Prime Minister and Mahathir's heir-designate from the Cabinet and the ruling UMNO – marked a turning point in Malaysia's history, which saw a sea-change in the politics of the new Malay middle class. These developments are far too important to be left unaddressed. This made me postpone the publication of this manuscript though it was largely completed in January 1999. I needed time to assess the new developments in the hope of making the necessary revisions and incorporating the post-crisis developments into the book. Ill health, however, delayed the completion of the manuscript until more than a year later. I am glad that I eventually managed to incorporate some aspects of the post-crisis developments, particularly in Chapters 8 and 10 of this book.

This study of the new Malay middle class has come to fruition via a circuitous route. In my days as a young lecturer in the early 1970s, I studied and wrote about the peasantry, the working class and intellectuals in the midst of change. Peasants, fishermen and worker-squatters were the most popular themes in the research and writing of that period, when

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