State-Led Modernization and the New Middle Class in Malaysia

By Abdul Rahman Embong | Go to book overview

Afterword: After the Crisis: the Southeast Asian Middle Classes Today

Clive S.Kessler

Studies of class groupings, especially those from the middle class broadly defined, have generally followed one of two approaches: either the empiricist and objectivist approach based upon the analysis of quantified data about individual members of class groupings; or culturalist and intersubjectivist approaches which focus upon the emergence and consolidation in action of common forms of public consciousness.

At the same time, a further dualism is apparent among the middle classes of Southeast Asia, especially since the regional economic crisis of 1997. On the one hand, many of them recognize that they have enjoyed advantages which they wish to hold onto and are reluctant to imperil, and they recognize that they owe their enjoyment of many of these benefits in a broad sense to government policies and sponsorship. At the same time, as they become more habituated to their middle-class position and its accompanying attitudes and habits of mind, the more sceptical many of them tend to become of government paternalism, even authoritarianism. Abdul Rahman Embong's important study throws light upon these core dualisms and ambivalences among the middle classes of contemporary Malaysia, and perhaps Southeast Asia more generally.

We are all familiar with a methodological puzzle or conundrum at the heart of sociological studies of class. Class, every first-year student learns to recognize, is a social phenomenon, a collective reality. Yet how do we, most of the time, study class? By conducting surveys and seeking quantifiable responses from individuals in order to assign them to classes. Then, from their imputed membership in the classes to which we have for our own purposes assigned them (which is to say from statistics about individuals), we seek to draw inferences and reach conclusions not about individuals but about classes and class experiences. It is odd that we so

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