“Kebun” Culture and the Malaysian Rural

Urbanization, Consumption and Culture Seminar Series

About the Seminar

Over the course of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, Malay society on the Malay Peninsula has gone through a rural to urban transition. In earlier times, Malays were seen as – and most, though not all were – rooted in rural, kampung (village) life. Now Malay lives, even for those born or living in rural kampung, are deeply entwined with urban centres. In the wake of thoroughgoing urbanism on the peninsula, a new form of rurality centred not on kampung but rather on kebun (orchards) is emerging among urban-centred Malays. This presentation examines two important aspects of the kebun-as-rural in Malaysia. First, kebun-as-rural is not categorically distinct from the urban, but rather operates as form of rurality within urban-oriented Malay culture and society. As such, the social relations and individuation of kebun culture are markedly different from kampung-as-rural. Second, access to the rural is class-differentiated, such that affluent and working-class Malays access kebun rurality respectively as spaces of consumption and production. Middle-class Malays have a more tenuous access to kebun rurality, being able neither to engage with kebun wholly as spaces of consumption nor as spaces of production. In explaining these contemporary trends in Malay society, I engage with recent theory in geography regarding planetary urbanization and assemblage.

About the Speaker

Eric C. Thompson is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the National University of Singapore. Before joining NUS, he completed a PhD in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Washington and was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, University of California Los Angeles. He teaches anthropology, gender studies, Southeast Asian studies, and research methods. His research spans field sites across Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand. His research interests include transnational networking, gender and power dynamics, urbanism, agrarian transitions, and ASEAN regionalism. His work has appeared in the journals American Ethnologist, Asian Studies Review, Contemporary Southeast Asia, Current Anthropology, Gender, Place and Culture, Global Networks, and Political Geography, among others. He is author of Unsettling Absences: Urbanism in Rural Malaysia (NUS Press, 2007), co-author of Awareness and Attitudes toward ASEAN (ISEAS, 2007) and Do Young People Know ASEAN? (ISEAS Press, 2016), and co-editor of Cleavage, Connection and Conflict in Rural, Urban, and Contemporary Asia (Springer, 2012), Southeast Asian Anthropologies (NUS Press, 2019), and Asian Smallholders: Persistence and Transformation (Amsterdam University Press, 2019).


For registration, please click here. Registration closes on 27 September 2019.


Oct 01 2019


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2