Political Affiliation and Ethnic Categorization in the Malay Identity

29 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2017

See all articles by Kai Ostwald

Kai Ostwald

University of British Columbia (UBC)

Date Written: April 25, 2017


Intersubjective ethnic categorization is typically treated as obvious and stable, under the assumption that it is a function of matching sticky descent-based attributes to ethnic categories. This paper presents evidence that political affiliation, which is not descent-based, can alter intersubjective ethnic categorization: under some circumstances, individuals deny the (self-professed) ethnic identity of political adversaries to delegitimize and punish them, while endorsing the ethnic identity of political allies. This is illustrated through the Malay ethnic identity in Malaysia, which has highly ambiguous boundaries and is strongly politicized. The findings have several implications: they demonstrate the complexity of intersubjective ethnic categorization, which challenges parsimonious conceptualizations of ethnic identity. They also illuminate a channel through which politicizing ethnic identity increases the risk of ethnic unrest: the vulnerability to attacks on their ethnic identity by political adversaries can create an ethnic outbidding dynamic in which political leaders compete to demonstrate their ethnic credentials.

Keywords: ethnic categorization, political affiliation, Malay, ethnic outbidding, identity politics

Suggested Citation

Ostwald, Kai, Political Affiliation and Ethnic Categorization in the Malay Identity (April 25, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3010996 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3010996

Kai Ostwald (Contact Author)

University of British Columbia (UBC) ( email )

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HOME PAGE: http://www.kaiostwald.me

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