Resisting and Transforming Space: The State, Environment and Indigenous People in Malaysia

By Loong Wong.

Published by The Diversity Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

Since the 1980s, the environment has become a key critical concern for many. The Brundtland Report, the United Nations and various agencies have in their own indelible way diligently work to promote greater environmental awareness and remind us that green is good for the environment. Political parties and business all tout their green credentials and green consumer guides, sustainable development and corporate environmental and/or social responsibility seek to press and mobilise us into their fold. Despite this seemingly greater awareness, the environment remains marginalized in developmental calculations, especially in ‘developing economies’. Seduced by the promise of growth and the desire to be ‘developed’, many developing societies have thus pursued policies which have transformed their economies and societies; in the process, health, human and cultural rights have been compromised. This paper is concerned with the impact of development on the environment, particularly its effects on the indigenous peoples of Sarawak. Using the example of deforestation and logging, this paper  seeks to focus on the local actions of indigenous peoples in Sarawak as they oppose and resist state developmental projects. The paper argues that the problem of deforestation and its relationship with indigenous peoples cannot be simply read off as an environment-development or a government-indigenous people issue. Rather the dynamics of the issue are far more complex, requiring greater detailed analysis, including the need to examine the nature and role of the state in Malaysia. The paper points out that the Malaysian state has sought to mobilize its indigeneity claims to effect development. This is however contested by indigenous peoples in Sarawak. The paper therefore points out that a deeper and more nuanced appreciation of the evolution of power and indigenous politics in Malaysia is necessary and critical. Until these issues – the struggle through which the contours of democracy and rights are negotiated and shaped by the people vis-a-vis the state - are resolved, just transformative practices are unlikely to be effected.

Keywords: Indigenous peoples, Penan, Power, Malaysia, Southeast Asia, Logging, Timber Industry, Social change, Political economy

International Journal of Diversity in Organizations, Communities and Nations, Volume 6, Issue 6, pp.159-166. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 883.050KB).

Dr Loong Wong

Senior Lecturer, School of Business and Government, University of Canberra, Australia

Loong has lived and worked in various countries in the Asia-pacific region. He has been active in a number of social movements but most of the time, he struggles to cope with the competing demands of research, teaching, administration and the desire to lead a vaguely positive and normal life.

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