Politics of the Temporary
An Ethnography of Migrant Life in Urban Malaysia
Author: Parthiban Muniandy
New Pb184 pp.
Subject: Social Studies
For more than three decades Malaysia’s economic growth has been driven in part by the skills and sweat of large numbers of migrant workers. The country has become the temporary home for more than two million documented migrants. Many more than that are undocumented, living precarious lives on the margins of society. In cities like Kuala Lumpur and George Town, workers from Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma, the Philippines, Vietnam and China contribute in seen and unseen ways to the lives of others. They are the servers and cooks in restaurants, maids and nannies in homes, street cleaners, construction workers, social escorts, sex workers and micro-entrepreneurs. But very little is known or understood about their everyday lives. Their voices have been silent.
For the first time, Politics of the Temporary details the rich, complex and often difficult realities of the lives of migrants in Malaysia – experiences that are for the most part hidden from public consciousness and awareness. Through a series of reflective and critical ethnographic notes – and told in the words of migrants themselves – Parthiban Muniandy provides an intimate examination of the many ways that migrants adapt to life in the city, their innovative strategies for coping with pressures of work and discrimination, and their capacity to forge new networks and build informal communities.
This book should be read by all those interested in the harsh realities of contemporary labour migration and social inequalities in a developing economy.
Parthiban Muniandy is a doctoral student at the Department of Sociology, University of Illinois, USA. He has conducted fieldwork for the past seven years on the politics of temporary migration in Malaysia. He has published on religious movements and democratic politics in Malaysia, global migration, development discourses and US media portrayals of Muslim societies. He is an advocate of critical pedagogy and social justice, an active organiser for graduate employees and low-wage campus workers, and a former youth campaigner for Amnesty International.