Grant TypeDissertation Fieldwork Grant
Institutional AffiliationStanford U.
Grant numberGr. 9854
Approve DateApril 29, 2019
Project TitleWang, Chun-Yu (Stanford U.) "Refining Politics: Oil Development, Environmental Activism, and Political Improvisation in Rural Malaysia"
CHUN-YU (JO ANN) WANG, then a graduate student at Stanford University, Stanford, California, was awarded funding in April 2019 to aid research on “Refining Politics: Oil Development, Environmental Activism, and Political Improvisation in Rural Malaysia,” supervised by Dr. James Ferguson. This research project investigates the novel political actors and practices that emerged from the interactions between a small fishing village and a state-led, mega refinery and petrochemical development project in Pengerang, Malaysia. It explores how the national oil development project and its related controversies afforded new political spaces and opportunities for marginalized social groups to rearticulate political subjectivities and solidarities. Archival and ethnographic fieldwork traces the emergence of unanticipated critical loci and allies, such as ‘cemeteries’ and ‘ghosts,’ mobilized by the ethnic-minority, non-elite Chinese villagers in political contestation against and negotiation with the clientelistic state and colluding elites. It delineates historically and spatially unique elements and dynamics, such as settlement patterns and intra-group rivalries, which informed community and identity rebuilding amidst turbulent industrialization and political transition. The dissertation foregrounds these transient encounters and interstitial agencies that also constituted the constantly shifting grounds for categorical differentiation and identification, and thus helps us better understand what it means to be/live a life as a ‘non-bumiputera’ (non-indigenous) ‘Chinese’ ‘Malaysian’ rather than normatively prescribing or theoretically assuming it. The research suggests that attention to novelty sheds light on how alternative political futures may come into being in multi-cultural, post-colonial societies.