UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Land and neighbourhood as features of Malay urbanism Clarke, Robert Ebersole


The dissertation reports the results of an ethnographic investigation of urban Malay associate choice in the town of Kota Bharu, Kelantan, West Malaysia. Field data were collected using standard anthropological techniques of participant observation, interviewing, the collection of activity schedules, and genealogies. The geographical, historical, and demographic context of the town is described. Malay urbanism is rather similar to the urbanism of Indonesian middle cities in that it is characterized by an involutional or static character in which few new social forms are produced or created. It is possible to account for the involutional character of Malay urbanism by reference to the factors of land and neighbourhood as they interact with factors arising from the occupational structure of the town. Urban life is characterized by two contrasting ideologies. The ideology of work forms the basis of the system of urban stratification; by emphasizing the motif of pride this ideology makes it difficult for urbanites to form associations across categories. In contrast, the ideology of association emphasizes the motif of humility and stresses the qualities of reciprocity and balance between individuals. Neither ideology can be said to govern urban life. Rather, Malay urbanism is a synthesis of considerations arising from both systems mediated by the choices of individual urbanites. Through an analysis of the use of time and associate choice it is demonstrated that although constraints of occupation account for certain regularities in the data, other factors are also significant. The analysis of a number of cases indicates that the relationship between the urbanite and the urban local group is a particularly significant factor influencing his choices. This is further supported by the analysis of a number of "special time" events which most frequently take place among members of the local groups and often emphasize solidarity among the members. The analysis of data from several areas of the town indicates the importance of land ownership as a factor defining membership in the local group. The local group is occupationally heterogeneous and considerations arising from the ideology of stratification make the possibility of dissolution potentially high. It is the joint interest in land which forms the basis for associations transcending these divisive tendencies. When, however, urbanites lose control over their land, the neighbourhood and the local group dissolve and urbanites search elsewhere for a part of the town where they can settle and create ties with a new set of neighbours, joining a new local group. Rather than creating new social forms to meet the changed conditions of the neighbourhood, they recreate the patterns to which they are accustomed in another part of the town. As a result of this, the pattern of urbanism remains unchanged and continues to have an involutional or static character. These findings challenge the conclusion of Provencher that Malay urbanism is a recreation and intensification of rural patterns. It is found that although the form and expression of reciprocity may be similar in town and village, in the village reciprocity is sustained by the recognition of similarities, whereas in the city it-is sustained by the recognition of differences. While Malay urbanism is different from rural life, it is also distinguished from the dynamic urbanism associated with European towns in their early stages in which the creation of new forms of social organization was the rule. It is the factors of land and neighbourhood which account for the transitional, involutional character of Malay urbanism. The dissertation epilogue describes an application of the thesis to a specific problem in national development policy planning.

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