Outrage in Malaysia: The Politics of Taking Offence

Lee, J 2018, 'Outrage in Malaysia: The Politics of Taking Offence', East Asia, vol. 35, pp. 249-268.


Document type: Journal Article
Collection: Journal Articles

Title Outrage in Malaysia: The Politics of Taking Offence
Author(s) Lee, J
Year 2018
Journal name East Asia
Volume number 35
Start page 249
End page 268
Total pages 20
Publisher Springer Netherlands
Abstract This article develops a general articulation of the politics of offence and outrage by drawing on examples of high profile political furores in Malaysia. In these furores, minority ethno-religious groups and individuals ostensibly caused offence to the majority Muslim Malay population. Although these offences were framed as transgressions of genuine sensitivities, I argue that politics of offence must be seen for the political utility it holds for those who claim to represent the majority group that has been putatively offended. In Malaysia, a key component of this political strategy is the positioning by the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) of its constituency-the Malays-as being comparatively economically weaker than non-Malay groups. This positioning in turn warrants the continuation of the positive discrimination policies of the New Economic Policy of the 1970s, which was implemented to achieve parity between the major ethnic groups in Malaysia. An example of this was when UMNO vehemently rejected the findings of a think tank that argued that the New Economic Policy's target of having 30% Malay ownership of equity had been achieved. This positioning of an in-group as weak, and the normalisation of privilege in the Malaysian context, is analysed in view of two other cases studies, Erving Goffman's concept of 'the turn', and Ward Goodenough's description of the human experience of outrage. I also show that 'outrage' as a politico-emotional strategy remains effective despite the momentous results of Malaysia's general elections in 2018, which might otherwise herald a new era of inter-ethnic co-operation.
Subject Government and Politics of Asia and the Pacific
Multicultural, Intercultural and Cross-cultural Studies
Asian Cultural Studies
Keyword(s) Ethnicity
Identity politics
Malaysia
Moral outrage
Offence taking
DOI - identifier 10.1007/s12140-018-9295-4
Copyright notice © Springer Nature B.V. 2018
ISSN 1096-6838
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