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 culture 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.
This analysis is based on extensive research, including interviews with dozens of past and present student activists and a close study of archives, government reports, firsthand accounts, and student publications extending over decades. Student Activism in Malaysia traces how higher education and student activism have developed and interacted, beginning with the start of tertiary education in early twentieth-century Singapore and extending to present-day Malaysia. In the process, Weiss calls into question the conventional wisdom that Malaysian students—and Malaysians overall—have become "apathetic." The author demonstrates that this apparent state of apathy is not inevitable, cultural, or natural, but is the outcome of a sustained project of pacification and depoliticization carried out by an ambitiously developmental state.