Unsettling Absences: Urbanism in Rural Malaysia

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By Eric C. Thompson

In Unsettling Absences, Eric Thompson argues that urbanism is a cultural force unbound from the city and is a pervasive presence in the Malaysian countryside. Transported to rural communities, urbanism has motivated migration, transformed the social lives of rural inhabitants, and created a deep ambivalence about personal identity. This has left rural Malays feeling out of place in both the city and the village. Kuala Lumpur epitomises modernity, but rural Malays who move there are often marginalised in squatter settlements on its periphery. The kampung symbolises home and the locus of Malay identity, but schoolbooks and television have projected urbanism that marks rural life as backwards and marginal in a forward-looking nation into the kampung.

The book challenges city-bound urban studies by locating urbanism in a wider world that extends outside of the city, and shows the conflicted realities of rural dwellers in an overwhelmingly urban world. As others have challenged the meaning of "modernity", Thompson challenges the meaning of "urban" while still recognising the powerful effects of an ideology of "urbanism". Unsettling Absences is a call to take seriously place-based identities and cultural geographies in a world where the urban/rural divide is dissolving in practice but in cultural terms remains as powerful as ever.


Eric C. Thompson is Associate Professor and Chair of Graduate Studies in the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore.


Publication Year: 2006
288 pages, 229mm x 152mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-336-7, Paperback

NUS Press