Identity, Nationhood and State-Building in Malaysia

Identity, Nationhood and State-Building in Malaysia

Identity, loyalty and nation building are key global challenges today. In the first part of this book, Emeritus Professor K.J. Ratnam, a leading Malaysian social scientist, discusses multiple identities in complex societies, political loyalty, and the challenges that ethnic and religious differences pose for social cohesion.

In the second section of the book, done in conversational style, he talks to researcher-writer Patrick Pillai about the importance of regaining the middle ground in Malaysian politics. He expresses a clear preference for civic over ethnic nationalism, arguing that, by embracing all citizens, it provides a more sustainable basis for loyalty. Among key issues discussed are whether Malaysia is a 13-State or a three-State federation, democracy and governance, ethnic politics, and electoral reform. Professor Ratnam also analyses current political alignments and their impact on ethnic relations, the perils of ethnic stereotyping, and the need for a national consensus on foundational issues. He says visions, narratives, national ideologies and constitutions may be useful in bringing people together, but are not enough for holding them together, and suggests some practical ways this problem can be overcome. 

Sweeping in scope yet detailed in analysis, this publication will interest scholars, students, policy makers and laymen, and encourage reflection on useful ways of facing up to the many complex challenges confronting multi-ethnic and multi-religious societies like Malaysia.  


Emeritus Professor Dato’ K.J. Ratnam, a political scientist, has been an analyst of Malaysian politics and ethnic relations for decades. His pioneering Communalism and the Political Process in Malaya, (University of Malaya Press, 1965) is considered a classic. His recent books include Rights, Freedoms and Civil Society, and Intellectuals, Creativity and Intolerance, (USM Publications). After serving as Professor and Dean of Social Sciences at the University of Singapore, he left for Penang 1970 to become Foundation-Dean, School of Comparative Social Sciences, Universiti Sains Malaysia, where he held various positions until his retirement in 1995.  

Dr Patrick Pillai, a sociologist, is the author of Yearning to Belong (ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, 2015), a book on the cultural identity of Peranakan communities in Peninsular Malaysia. The book was nominated for the International Convention of Asian Scholars 2017 Colleagues' Choice Award. He was a Research Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies, Malaysia, and was previously a journalist with the New Straits Times Group. 

Author K.J. Ratnam
Cover Paperback
Pages 129
Published 2019

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  • Brand: SIRD
  • Product Code: 9789672165651
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Tags: Patrick Pillai, Malaysia, K.J Ratnam