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Title: Objects of culture : constituting Bidayuh-ness in Sarawak, East Malaysia
Author: Chua, L. C. L.
Awarding Body: University of Cambridge
Current Institution: University of Cambridge
Date of Award: 2007
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The last few decades have seen the rise of a worldwide ‘culture phenomenon’, in which the concept of ‘culture’ has become a ubiquitous means of asserting collective distinctiveness and difference. This tendency has been especially pronounced in postcolonial states and among ethnic minority groups; and my research focuses on its manifestations among the Bidayuh, an indigenous group of Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. My dissertation asks what it means to ‘be Bidayuh’ and ‘have Bidayuh culture’ as part of an explicitly ‘multicultural’ Malaysian state, in which access to education, jobs and other political and economic resources is determined along official ethnic lines. Anthropologists have generally treated such formations of cultural consciousness with suspicion, viewing their products as reified, essentialised and objectified versions of socio-cultural reality. The cultural claimants in these studies are often portrayed as either politically-aware manipulators of statist models and categories, or ‘ordinary’ people quite unaware of their ‘invented’ nature. The villagers among whom I conducted fieldwork, however, fit neither category: they are aware of the relative newness of official ‘culture’ concepts, but do not treat them as merely political resources. On one level, my dissertation thus seeks to fill an ethnographic gap by assessing how ‘Bidayuh-ness’ is constituted by the inhabitants of a self-consciously ‘modern’ village on the outskirts of the capital. It argues that to fully understand Bidayuh concepts of ‘culture’, we must engage with preoccupations, causal mechanisms and ontological assumptions which are of salience to Bidayuhs themselves. On another level, this thesis comments reflexively on the way anthropologists have dealt with the (apparent) objectifications of their informants, especially with regard to the concept of ‘culture’.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available