The “Already Surmounted” yet “Secretly Familiar”: Malaysian Identity as Symptom

Peer Reviewed


Hindu reform-inspired movements and artistic organizations produce a multicultural and multiethnic narrative for Malaysia that simultaneously asserts difference while negating both the state-sponsored and stereotypical boundaries of ethnic demarcation. An exacerbated uncertainty of identity among Indians and Malays, as perceived by elite Indians, produces a struggle for symbolic autonomy or transcendence from the ethnosymbolic ordering of the nation-state. This, ironically, manifests itself in a fetishistic hold of ethnic ideology, despite its ostensible negation by elite Hindus in Malaysia. This process is instructive for an understanding of the local contingencies of identity formation, particularly in its fixated-on form.

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