State-Led Modernization and the New Middle Class in Malaysia

By Abdul Rahman Embong | Go to book overview

8
Malay Middle-Class Politics, Democracy and Civil Society

Introduction

The problem of middle-class politics, and the role of the new middle class in championing democracy and civil society, has attracted the attention of many scholars studying the new middle class in the West as well as in Asia (see, for example, Huntington 1991; Hsiao 1993; Vidich 1995; Robison and Goodman 1996; Hsiao and Koo 1997; Cox 1997). 1 The term ‘civil society’, as used here, refers to the space between the individual and family on the one hand, and the state and market on the other. It is suggested by commentators that this space exerts a certain degree of autonomy, counterbalancing the power of the state and the market. Such space becomes the realm of autonomous group action distinct from both corporate power and the state, and within this space exist ‘autonomous groups articulating the views and interests and fears of the less powerful’ ( Cox 1997: 10). Such groups may consist of ‘clubs, religious organizations, business groups, labour unions, human rights groups, and other associations located between the household and the state and organized on the basis of voluntarism and mutuality’ ( Hefner 2000: 23). In Asia, capitalist development in various countries has generated the class basis for the development of civil society. The middle class and the working class are considered to be the main social forces involved in this emerging civil society, and are expected to play the central role in expanding this social space.

Scholars researching and writing about civil society in Asia draw attention to the growth of what is called the non-profit sector, and the role of the new middle class in leading non-government organizations, or NGOs ( Yamamoto 1995; Lee 1995; Corrothers and Suryatna 1995). They argue that the emergence of a sizable urban middle class serves to provide

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