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The Anthropology of the Malay Peasantry: Critical Reflections on Colonial and Indigenous Scholarship

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There has been a continuous anthropological interest in the Malay peasantry for the past 70 years. This has resulted in a rich theoretical and empirical literature. This article offers a critical genealogical account of knowledge production spanning some four generations of anthropologists. The first two generations were dominated by Western anthropologists — notably Raymond Firth and Michael Swift — working in the context of late colonialism. The latter two generations were represented by indigenous scholars who consciously dealt with the intellectual legacies of the past while, at the same time, opening up new research vistas. Using a close reading of some of the key anthropological texts produced on the Malay peasantry, as well as an analysis of the institutionalisation of professional anthropology in Malaysia, the article discusses the tensions of inter-generational continuities and ruptures. While acknowledging the enormous debt that many indigenous scholars clearly owed to their Western mentors it is argued that there emerged a qualitative break with the past during the late 1970s and 1980s. This saw indigenous anthropologists grappling with post-peasantry studies and opening up new fields of inquiry to do with larger issues of agrarian change, capitalist modernity, ideational formation and contemporary politics.

Affiliations: 1: University of Malaya

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/content/journals/10.1163/156848410x12604385959362
2010-01-01
2016-12-08

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