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Historicising Rationality: The Transmission of Rationality and Science to the Malay States under British Rule

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In this article, I will attempt to look at the process of modernisation of Malay society under British rule, roughly from 1874 to 1957, from the perspective of Weber's theory of rationalisation. I will be looking at the process of rationalisation in the spheres of public administration, education, science and technology. Contrary to Weber's and Habermas' view of rationalisation as involving value and cultural change prior to social change, I argue that rationalisation as it occurred under conditions of colonisation in the Malay States in late 19th and early 20th centuries, require a different explanatory model in which the rationalisation that occurred was primarily instrumental and utilitarian in nature, not involving value-change, and where science was not institutionalised prior to its professionalisation. This reversal, in the sequential order, in comparison to that found in the European process of rationalisation, results in a different set of consequences and poses a problem for cultural stability and the indigenization of science and technology in Malaysia.

Affiliations: 1: Dept. of Science & Technology Studies, University of Malaya


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