State-Led Modernization and the New Middle Class in Malaysia

By Abdul Rahman Embong | Go to book overview

7
The New Malay Middle Class and Community

Introduction

The term ‘community’ implies having something in common. However, community – a social phenomenon found in every society, even during modern times – is often associated in people's minds with rural environments, and is thought to be something unfamiliar in urban and, especially, metropolitan settings. Since the nineteenth century, one central concern in social theory has been that the processes of urbanization and industrialization would result in the demise of community. The ‘loss of community’ thesis was first advanced by the German sociologist Tönnies (1957) in his work entitled Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (first published in 1887), in which he showed the change from the personal, the emotional and the traditional in the Gemeinschaft to the impersonal, the rational and the contractual of the Gesellschaft. While agreeing that both Gemeinschaft-like and Gesellschaft-like relationships could be found in rural and urban settings, he argued that there was a greater tendency towards Gemeinschaft-like relationships in rural areas. This idea was developed by a number of later scholars, the most well known being George Simmel and Louis Wirth (discussed in Lee and Newby 1994). Following Tönnies and Simmel, Wirth suggested that as people move from the countryside to the city, so they leave behind a ‘rural way of life’ and take on the values and behaviour of ‘urbanism as a way of life’ ( Wirth 1938; discussed in Lee and Newby 1994: 47).

However, while a number of contemporary works support the above view, there are several studies in major industrial societies such as Britain, the United States and Japan which suggest that community-like social groups sometimes survive or grow in urban conurbations in the midst of cities. The well-known communities studied have included Bethnal

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