Citizenship in multi-ethnic Malaysia: an investigation of student teachers' understandings, values and beliefs
Naidu, Noor Banu Mahadir
It has been argued that western models of citizenship and identity could not fit easily into the Asian world. Western models tend to place an emphasis more on rights traditions, whereas most Asian countries focus on communitarian traditions that propose community values over individual rights. Western multiculturalism and minority rights have had an influence in many Asian countries, promoted by western academics, governments and international organizations. Western models have often not been well understood in the region, and may not suit the specific historical, cultural, demographic, and geopolitical circumstances of the Asian region. Malaysia is one of the countries which has its own citizenship concept and experiences. Malaysia has adopted its own version of an 'ethnically differentiated model of citizenship' which ensures cultural and political superiority of the more populous but economically less powerful Malays, but strives for a unified notion of citizenship and a Malaysian national identity. This study aims to investigate the citizenship constructs and experiences of multi-ethnic Malaysian student teachers at a major university. In the spirit of ethnographic design, twenty-eight mixed age and gender multi-ethnic student teachers, who were enrolled on a citizenship and citizenship education course, participated. The data was analysed using a thematic analysis methodology. The current study suggested that citizenship and identity experiences in multi-ethnic Malaysia could be viewed from the perspectives of identity and belonging. At a context level, I used two social reality identity approaches to capture identity experiences from above (macro policy) and from below (lived experiences). Within the paradigm of the Malaysian national vision (belonging, identity and rights responsibilities), in depth interviews, observation and focus group were used to elicit the multiple and shifting ways in which the experiences of belonging and the politics of belonging were configured in student teachers' everyday citizenship experiences. Using the framework of belonging and the politics of belonging, the findings showed that student teachers' lived citizenship was found to reflect both an emotional attachment to place and a sense of 'belongingness', and also to reinforce socio-spatial boundaries between majority and minority groups. Within the belonging framework, student teachers' identity narratives suggested that they belonged to manifold social locations (cultural, religion and age) which have an impact on rights, responsibilities and re-imagined communities' experiences. These social locations could be viewed within an intersection approach that promotes both a sense of 'belongingness' and 'unbelonging' to the Malaysian nation. This study suggested that a multidimensional approach to citizenship, identity and belonging was crucial to understand the complexities of citizenship and identity discourse in Malaysia.