Soft But Spiky Power: Can the Durian Go Global?

Urbanization, Consumption and Culture Seminar Series


About the Seminar

In August 2018, the Malaysian government signed a protocol with the Chinese government to allow for the export of frozen whole Malaysian durians to China. This is both good news for Chinese consumers (who form the world’s largest market for durians) and the Malaysian economy; though stories of deforestation to make way for durian plantations have led to a Temiar blockade in Gua Musang. Tiger habitats are also under threat. This presentation follows the durian as it is poised to become a new plantation crop to feed the China market. The thorny durian paradoxically functions as a sign of Malaysia’s ‘soft’ power in China, even as relations between the two governments were tested when PM Mahathir cancelled several major infrastructural projects after coming back to power in 2018.

There are two parts to this narrative of the durian’s journey: its felicitous journey East and its more treacherous journey to the West, where it may encounter instances of hostility and abuse from the latter. In going global, will Malaysian durians face the threat of losing their deeply polarising smell? After all, the odourless durian has been developed in Thailand in 2007. Can its ‘cultural odour’, which is both its strength and weakness, survive the journey to the West, even if it retains popularity in the East? Or should durian tours be the answer: to attract foreigners (from East and West) to come to Malaysia? Exploring aspects of the Malaysian durian’s identity that differentiates itself from Thai varieties that dominate the global market, I posit agritourism as one way to maintain the Malaysian durian’s uniqueness.

About the Speaker

Dr Gaik Cheng Khoo is Associate Professor of Film and Television at the School of Media, Languages and Cultures. She is also the Director of the University of Nottingham Asia Research Institute, Malaysia. Her research interests span film, food, civil society, politics, cosmopolitanism, citizenship and migration. Her book publications include Reclaiming Adat: Contemporary Malaysian Film and Literature (University of British Columbia Press, 2005), and Eating Together: Food, Space and Identity in Malaysia and Singapore (co-authored with Jean Duruz, Rowman and Littlefield, 2014). She has also published co-edited volumes, journal special issues and numerous articles on ethnic relations in Malaysia and Singapore, Malaysian food heritage and identity, civil society organisation Bersih, and Southeast Asian cinema.


For registration, please click here. Registration closes on 21 November 2019.


Nov 25 2019


10:00 am - 11:30 am


ISEAS Seminar Room 2