Student Activism in Malaysia: Crucible, Mirror, Sideshow
This work traces the early rise and subsequent decline of politically effective student activism in Malaysia. During the 1970s, the state embarked on a project of "intellectual containment" that both suppressed ongoing mobilization of university students and delegitimized further activism. That project has been notably successful in curbing student protest, erasing a legacy of past engagement, and stemming the production of potentially subversive new ideas.
Innovative student proposals for reform that were once sanctioned and even welcomed (within bounds) are now illicit and discouraged, reflecting not only changes in Malaysia's political regime, but changes in the political cultural overall. This incisive study sheds new light on the dynamics of mobilization and on the key role of students and universities in postcolonial political development.
The research - based on sources that include interviews with dozens of past and present student activists, decades' worth of campus publications and other media, print and oral history archives, government reports, and autobiographies as well as other firsthand accounts - traces the intertwining paths of higher education and student activism, from the start of tertiary education in early twentieth-century Singapore and extending to present-day Malaysia.
Meredith Weiss is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Albany, SUNY. Her research focuses on issues of political mobilization and change, civil society, human rights, and collective identity in Southeast Asia.
This in-depth study calls into question the conventional wisdom that Malaysian students - and Malaysians overall - have become "apathetic." That apparent disinterest is not inevitable or natural, but is, the book argues, the outcome of a systematic, sustained project of pacification and depoliticization by a moderately illiberal, ambitiously developmental state.