New column: Greetings from corporate academia

My new column in the Malay Mail online, published on 4th June 2015:

Private higher education in Malaysia has evolved into a new kind of species. Like a forest-dwelling creature adapting to its new habitat in denuded wastelands, private higher education has learned to transform its identity, priorities, and raison d’être in the surreal world of commercial academia. It might look like a mutant produced via the unholy union of commerce and education, but for many in Malaysia, it looks quite attractive. After all, a demand is met through supply (however overstretched, under-qualified, and overworked the latter is).

Read the rest here.

Academic style

Google ‘academic style’ and chances are you’ll get academic writing style and not academic sartorial style. How is a woman to know how to dress like an academic?

Deciding what to wear for work as an academic is supposed to be exciting. The academic identity exudes authority and expertise, and so it should seem obvious that sartorially, we should choose clothing that reflect, and whenever necessary, amplify those qualities.

But being a female academic is more complicated. Because as women, we are judged by how we look so much despite being in a job that trades on our intellectual faculties. It is so easy to make a misstep: we can be too dressy, too matronly, too frivolous, too decorative. Yes, we as women can be our own worst critic. I am also guilty for thinking that my female colleague looks like a Carmelite monk.

Pantsuits are quite unusual in academia. There is a deliberate emphasis on looking casual but smart. Chunky, exotic jewellery may be necessary for female anthropologists. Whatever female academics choose to wear at work, the balance between authority and approachability can be challenging to achieve. It’s mainly because the feminine image of authority is quite rare and lacking in diversity.

I turn to the British historian Lucy Worsley for inspiration. Her chic hairstyle and ever so smart dresses enhances my perception of her enthusiasm and expertise. She is the embodiment of the ‘nice work’ that academia is thought to represent. But hers is a style I can only aspire. After all, she wears bright and flattering coats and dresses because they’re good for television (well, she says so herself) and she is a self-professed lover of fashion. I can only dream to wear cute dresses and sexy shoes to work everyday.

The historian Lucy Worsley. I would like to think that academics can dress like this on a normal day at work.

The place where I work values modesty as an organising principle. There are signs to remind that the campus space is a morally conservative space. Bodies that pass through this space must conform to a regime that goes beyond sartorial control. If anything, the dress code is part of a bigger disciplinary programme to manufacture a certain type of citizen. The characteristics of the citizen in question is well rehearsed in the long-running lamentations about the multiple failures of the Malaysian educational system.

It is worth remembering that the university is not a hermetically-sealed bubble however much you may argue it is. Considering the campus’s relation to the wider cultural context and general attitude to style in Kuala Lumpur, we are not known to be particularly stylish people or a nation celebrated for its sophistication and style. My campus is not in London or Paris and it shows.

All this pondering and writing about ‘academic attire’ belies my rather diffident attitude about style. And here’s a confession: I have yet to update my wardrobe which currently consists of graduate student clothes and tatty blouses from my teenage years. I am hugely reluctant to shop and prefer spending my money on food and drink. My reluctance stems from a stubborn frugality and the flawed conviction that the mind is enough to create an impression.

Dear Reader, I will eventually make that leap into the mysterious world of clothes that befits the new academic once I have figured out the right kind of blouse, skirt, shirt, and trousers I am allowed to wear at work.

On Anis Sabirin the Malay feminist writer (and translation of my new column)

pwb coverI cannot remember what I was doing in the British Library one fine afternoon in 2014, but I had found a who’s who of Malay literature published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka. In it was a short biography of Anis Sabirin, a name I was faintly familiar with for being the singular critical voice against the sexism of Malay male writers in the 1960s. Soon after, I requested an inter-library loan from Leiden via the SOAS Library to read her collection of essays, Peranan Wanita Baru (The Role of the New Woman, 1969). This book is largely forgotten now, but her critique is still fresh. There is no other book like it since; a collection of essays on Malaysian women in development, economics, Malay culture, and contemporary Malay literature. An intention to write a full length essay stewed in the backburner for many months until an opportunity came to write a column for the Malay Mail commemorating International Women’s Day of 2015. The column is intentionally in Malay as a kind of homage to a  Malaysian feminist writer:

The Malay writer Anis Sabirin. Source: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

The Malay writer Anis Sabirin. Source: Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka.

Anis Sabirin. Satu nama yang jarang sekali menjelma dalam wacana feminis di Malaysia. Suatu ketika di penghujung dekad 1960-an, beliau terkenal sebagai suara yang lantang mengkritis penggambaran wanita yang seksis dalam sastera Melayu moden. Beliau bagaikan perintis feminis moden yang berpencapaian tinggi, lain daripada tokoh-tokoh feminis-nasionalis terkemuka seperti Shamsiah Fakeh dan Sybil Kathigasu yang datang sebelumnya.

Malaysia pada zaman 1960-an sebuah negara yang baru mengenali pembangunan moden dan hidupan kosmopolitan yang banyak memanfaatkan golongan wanita di bandar. Dapat dilihat di zaman ini ramai wanita yang bekerja dan berkerjaya berikutan bilangan mahasiswi di universiti yang meningkat.

Lahir pada tahun 1936 di Johor Bharu, Anis Sabirin adalah antara wanita generasi moden 1960-an yang menyambut peluang melanjutkan pelajaran hingga ke tahap PhD dalam bidang ekonomi di Amerika Syarikat. Beliau pernah menetap di San Francisco dan Los Angeles selama 20 tahun dan giat menulis fiksyen dan puisi dalam bahasa Melayu dan Inggeris. Esei-eseinya tentang isu wanita dalam Peranan Wanita Baru dan majalah Dewan Sastera menempatkan Anis Sabirin antara penulis wanita bersifat feminis yang terawal di Malaysia.

Pada tahun 1963, beliau pernah menyampaikan kritikan yang menyengat di Majlis PENA yang berlangsung di Universiti Malaya. Dalam ucapannya, penulis lelaki popular seperti Yahya Samah, Alias Ali, Keris Mas, dan Kala Dewata sering mengisi novel mereka dengan watak pelacur dan mangsa rogol sebagai ‘perencah’ cerita. Menurut Anis Sabirin, watak wanita yang menggiurkan menjadi ‘barang dagangan’ bagi menyara kehidupan seorang sasterawan lelaki.

Dari sudut pandang sekarang, Malaysia pada dekad 1960-an adalah seperti negara yang asing. Mungkin sukar untuk kita bayangkan bahawa pasaran novel picisan di zaman dahulu penuh dengan seks dari muka depan hingga ke belakang. Seperti majalah lucah, kulit buku Temasya Cinta oleh A. Samad Ismail dan Patah Dayong oleh Yahya Samah dihiasi imej wanita yang telanjang. Mengikut Anis Sabirin, perempuan dalam novel-novel seperti ini ‘sudah menjadi barang yang rosak dan merosakkan.’

Sangat mengejutkan jika kita membaca esei-esei yang dihimpun dalam Peranan Wanita Baru terbitan Utusan Melayu pada tahun 1969. Tajuknya – Peranan Wanita Baru – mengacu kepada wanita 1960-an yang sedang melangkah ke zaman paska-kolonial yang penuh perubahan sosial dan budaya. Seiringan dengan itu, gerakan feminisme gelombang kedua di Amerika Syarikat baru sahaja berputik di pertengahan 1960-an.

Anis Sabirin begitu peka kepada kehendak wanita moden yang dibelenggu pemahaman adat dan agama yang kuno. Menurutnya, sudah ramai wanita 1960-an yang berpendidikan tinggi dan mempunyai daya saing di tempat kerja tetapi ditekan oleh beban rumahtangga. Beliau menggaris dengan terang-terang bahawa kemajuan wanita terletak di luar rumah:

Nanti bila pergaulan bangsa kita menjadi bertambah bebas, kenyataan ini boleh-lah di-buktikan, bahawa wanita yang bekerja itu hidup-nya menarek daripada sa-orang wanita yang dudok di-rumah, dan sebab itu dia tidak payah berlumba-lumba memikat orang lelaki untok memboktikan daya penarek-nya.

Peranan Wanita Baru merupakan satu-satunya buku yang menyasarkan bara terhadap patriarki yang tertanam degil di akar umbi budaya Melayu. Boleh dikatakan bahawa belum pernah adanya buku yang sepertinya malah ia lenyap dari wacana feminis Malaysia. Soalnya mengapa?

Suara lantang Anis Sabirin dalam Peranan Wanita Baru mungkin tidak mendapat sambutan yang meluas di kalangan wanita dan lelaki Malaysia. Penulis wanita yang berani mencabar lelaki akan disisih secara terang dan halus. Meskipun sumbangan wanita dalam dunia sastera Malaysia dianugerahkan bermacam pingat dan piala, mereka tidak diagungkan seperti lelaki sejawatnya. Tidak ada sasterawati Melayu yang dikenali umum seperti Shahnon Ahmad dan A. Samad Said.

Setelah 46 tahun sejak terbitan Peranan Wanita Baru, bagaimana pula pembaca novel popular sekarang yang dihidangkan dengan keasyikan kahwin kontrak dan ombak rindu? Di mana pergi peredaran zaman yang memberi peluang kepada wanita seluas-luasnya pada tahun 1960-an itu?

Pendirian tegas Anis Sabirin tentang isu wanita jauh berbeza daripada wanita Malaysia yang menulis dalam bahasa kebangsaan di waktu kini. Namun penulisannya masih segar dan relevan. Sebagai seorang wanita yang giat menulis tentang isu wanita, saya mengambil iktibar darinya dan mengkagumi esei-eseinya yang bersifat feminis dan ‘global’ yang muncul sebelum kemudahan internet dan arus globalisasi.

Hujah feminis yang dikemukakan dalam Peranan Wanita Baru adalah bukti bahawa masa depan wanita di Malaysia tidak menentu. Kekangan dahulu sama seperti kekangan sekarang. Suasana zaman atau zeitgeist yang kini diungkapkan oleh wacana ‘demokrasi’ dan ‘hak asasi’ tidak menjamin kemajuan dan pencerahan. Namun, perjuangan feminis di Malaysia yang kini semakin memuncak akan meninggalkan kesan yang lebih bermakna dan sejarah yang lebih diperingati oleh generasi yang akan datang.

My translation:

Anis Sabirin. A name we rarely hear in Malaysian feminist discourse today. She was known in the 1960s as a strident critic of the sexist portrayal of women in modern Malay literature. As a highly accomplished woman in modern Malaya, she was different from the kind of nationalist women of the likes of Shamsiah Fakeh and Sybil Kathigasu who are reimagined today as feminist heroines.

Malaysia in the 1960s was new to modernity and the cosmopolitan lifestyle that benefited women living and working in urban centres. Women of the period were pursuing careers outside the home and quickly filling the university where they were receiving gaining higher education.

Born in 1936 in Johor Bharu, Anis Sabirin belonged to a new generation of Malaysian women who embraced the opportunities in education that led to her pursuing a PhD in economics in the US. She went on to continue to living in San Francisco and Los Angeles for more than 20 years where she was active in writing fiction and poetry in both Malay and English. Her essays on women’s issues in Peranan Wanita Baru and in the literary magazine Dewan Sastera places her as among the earliest feminist voices in Malaysia.

In 1963, she delivered a stinging, if very memorable, critique at the assembly of Association for National Writers of Malaysia, PENA, in University of Malaya. In her speech, popular writers like Yahya Samah, Alias Ali, Keris Mas, and Kala Dewata regularly write into their stories prostitutes whose only function is to spice things up. According to her, sexualised imagery of women were ‘commoditised’ to line the pockets of male fiction writers.

From today’s perspective, Malaysia in the 1960’s might seem like a foreign country. It might strike as a surprise that many novels and penny dreadfuls of the time were filled with sexually explicitly and tawdry content. Like pornographic magazines,  naked women grace the book covers of Temasya Cinta by A. Samad Ismail and Patah Dayong by Yahya Samad (see blog post for example). The women in these novels are depicted as ‘damaged and damaging objects’.

It will come across as a surprise to read the essays in Peranan Wanita Baru published in 1969 by Utusan Melayu. The title of the collection – The Role of New Women – is an address to Malaysian women who were experiencing new social and political realities of the postcolonial era. It was also a period that coincided with the rise of Second Wave feminism.

Anis Sabirin was sensitive to the constraints of custom and conservative interpretations of religion. She felt that women could compete for the best jobs in the work place but were held back by domestic responsibilities. It was clear to her that women’s progress lie outside the home:

When there are fewer restrictions on mixing between the sexes, we will find that working women’s lives are more interesting than the woman stays at home, and that is because the working woman is not as desperate to show her desirability to men

Peranan Wanita Baru is perhaps the only book in Malay by a woman that articulates directly at the deeply embedded patriarchal hegemony of Malay society. There has never been a book quite like it and it is somehow completely forgotten. Why?

The author’s strident voice may not have been well-received in Malaysia at the time and the decades that followed. Malay women writers who were bold and critical of men were marginalised in explicit and subtle ways. Although many women writers have been garlanded with awards for their literary achievements, they are not the nation’s Great Writers like Shahnon Ahmad and A. Samad Said.

Since its first publication 46 years ago, what do contemporary readers make of  ‘contract marriage’ romances and rape myths in Ombak Rindu so popular in Malaysian fiction today? Where have the heady days of modernity and cosmopolitanism enjoyed in the 1960s that Anis Sabirin wrote about gone?

Anis Sabirin’s clear and vociferous voice is but a faint echo in the discourse on women’s rights in the Malay language today. But her’s is still fresh and relevant as ever. As a woman who writes on ‘women’s issues’ in Malaysia, I turn to Anis Sabirin for inspiration as a ‘global’ trailblazing writer far ahead of her time before the age of the internet and globalisation.

If the feminist issues raised in Peranan Wanita Baru are an indicator for anything, they are an unhappy reminder that the future for women in Malaysia is deeply uncertain. Malaysian women faced the same kinds of obstacles then as they do now. The human rights discourse and democracy that imbibe the spirit of the age cannot guarantee progress and enlightenment. However, it will seem like the current feminist wave will be more than a historical footnote in the annals of Malaysian women’s history.

New piece on New Mandala: Rape and the pantomime of misogyny

I have a new piece up on New Mandala published on 19th February where I try to grips with the violent misogyny in Malaysian politics. It is a mere platitude to argue that these male politicians are misogynistic. What’s more pertinent to ask is, why are they are using their platforms to air these views, why do they need to display their hatred of women so openly.

For better or worse, formal politics has been conceptualised as dramaturgy where politicians are actors who perform an ideological script.1 In Malaysia, the farcical tragicomedy of politics bears exaggerated elements of performance and dramaturgy which is why it may be useful to understand Malaysian politics as pantomime. In a pantomime, emotions are whipped to a frenzy when a villain or hero walks onto the stage. It is a theatrical mode that relies on the hyperbolic qualities of the hero, villain, and fool. It is through re-thinking Malaysian politics as a pantomime that we can perhaps understand its tacit and explicit endorsement of sexual violence against women.

Formal politics as pantomime is a little different from populist politics in that extreme views are attributed to political actors who are otherwise revered in person and for their other public accomplishments. But politics as pantomime shares a continuity with populism in that there is an acknowledgement that politics is artifice because the promotion of populist views may be necessary in spite of the politician’s own personal conviction. As a theatrical form, pantomime is open to a participating audience who may sing, heckle, and laugh. Despite their distance from political actors, there is an emotive register of the Malaysian public who react to the theatricality of Malaysian politics in the arena of public discourse.

Read the rest here.

New column on the Malay Mail: Are we ready for post-nationalism?

I have a new column out on the Malay Mail, Are ready for postnationalism?, published on 13th February 2015.

It’s nice to see the dust settling after a week of nationalistic confabulation. In its wake, the political appropriation of the life and achievements of Tunku Abdul Rahman last week left a distinct kind of aftertaste. It is the sickly sweet obsession with national belonging and the notion of anak bangsa.

Anak bangsa has an ideological connotation different from warganegara or rakyat. All three terms mean “citizen” but anak bangsa implies a special kind of belonging, one that is familial and comes with filial responsibilities.

Read the rest here.

New column on the Malay Mail: The economics of virginity in patriarchal Malaysia

My column on the Malay Mail, The economics of virginity in patriarchal Malaysia, published 2nd February 2015:

Let’s forget that the hymen is central to the idea of (female) virginity.

Focus instead on virginity as a cultural and social form of control. When we do this, we will discover that virginity is only a construct rather than a “real” thing. Once we recognise that virginity is a man-made idea and serves the interests of straight male sexuality, we can expose its sinister purpose.

Read the rest here.

Against fluff feminism

Every so often, ‘feminism’ would bubble up to the surface of the Malaysian mediasphere. It would be shared and retweeted on social media, but it would not stimulate a lengthy (documented) discussion on what it really is, what its aims are, and how people often get it ‘wrong’.

This post is on the latter concern; how people often get feminism ‘wrong’. ‘Wrong’ in this sense means a few things and not the opposite of ‘correct’. ‘Wrong’ here means the mis-interpretation of feminism, that it is a “bra-burning, man-hating, lesbian” enterprise on a warpath to destroy hapless men everywhere.

Being ‘wrong’ in this sense is not necessarily about ignorance, but about unexamined prejudices and naivety. This is not a permanent condition; people can get it ‘right’ after a recognition and critical assessment of this ‘wrong’.

Another way people get feminism ‘wrong’ is by only professing that feminism is about ‘equality’ in its most superficial sense. Equality in the superficial sense refers to establishing equal opportunities for women and men in every arenas of public and domestic life without addressing and dismantling what causes inequality.

Identifying the problems why inequality continues to persist is about pulling the rug from the complacency of everyday life. Being ‘right’ about feminism is about being confrontational, uncomfortable, uncompromising, and provocative towards people and institutions that willfully stand in the way of women.

Fluff feminism, on the other hand, is about being nice and a bland celebration of consumerism and ‘empowerment’. It is the kind of feminism that even sexists and misogynists can get behind because it does not rock the boat of patriarchy. In fact, fluff feminism’s adoration of celebrity and commodified femininity reinforces sexism.

We already live in a society that regards women as the archetypal consumer; she loves to shop because she is obsessed about her looks, clothes, and make-up. This is a society that polices how women look. The tragedy is, women happily self-police themselves, internalising the consumerist narrative of “shop til you drop”. We also must endure a society that worships the unholy trinity of fame, money, and power. So using celebrity to ‘re-brand’ feminism does little to illuminate the hard work and concerns of people who have neither fame, money, nor power.

Fluff feminism reinforces the status quo. It makes no demands, it asks no questions. It is allergic to critical examination and reflection. It is about accommodating all choices that women make as ‘feminist’ because she chose it – whether it is pursuing a satisfying full-time career or giving up work to have ten children or getting a Brazilian wax.

To make feminism ‘fun’ and less ‘scary’, anything can be feminist so long as it is prefaced with ‘choice’. But change on the individual and societal level is unsettling and uncomfortable. The embrace of discomfort and anxiety is radical. Insisting on comfort and convenience is not.

This post is not about putting down women who may be fluff feminists, but an attack on fluff feminism itself. There is a difference between critiquing politics and disparaging a group of people. Women are not born fluff feminists, but they can become fluff feminists when they do not view the world from a critical lens.

New essay on The New Inquiry

The New Inquiry has kindly published an essay I’ve written on Islamic astronomy, ritual, and outer space in their January issue on ‘Stars’. Here is an excerpt:

Astrological and cosmological inquiry by medieval Muslim and Arabian scholars (that is, they wrote in Arabic) were concerned with the link that connected the earth and the night sky, and humankind’s place in it. The religious impulse to make sense of this “place” would animate scientific debates about the stars in the ninth to 14th centuries—the “golden age of Islam.” In turn, the legacy of Muslim scientists or natural philosophers of this period would inspire Islamic practice in outer space in the 21st century, with dubious results.

For centuries, the stars out in outer space provided humanity with a sense of wonder, mystery, and the divine. Through gazing upon the stars and stripping away their distant secret, a mastery of extraterrestrial worlds and dreams of conquest became inevitable. Thus in the present century, Islamic science and space exploration would together at last arrive at a spectacular conclusion: an achievement of greater proximity to the stars to better understand humankind’s place and space in the universe. Not only would Muslims arrive in outer space, but through techno-theological discourse, they would able to make space for Islam among the stars.

Read the rest here.

Mahasiswa – a universal identity or a Malay masculine one?

Mahasiswa, the people's spokesman [via The Nutgraph/Fahmi Reza]

Mahasiswa, the people’s spokesman [via The Nutgraph/Fahmi Reza]

The figure of the mahasiswa or male university student is in the news again, demanding the liberation of Malaysian academia from draconian government intervention. There is also a ‘rising star’ of student activism: 23 year old Fahmi Zainol, a young Malay man of utopian political and intellectual ambition.

As the president of University of Malaya’s student union, Fahmi is the official representative of the university’s student body. But how representative he and his vision are is more questionable.

From the top down, Malaysian public universities are Malay male cultural domains. Student unions are over-represented by Malays and are by sheer default led by Malay (or bumiputera) men despite the fact that Malay female students often outnumber the men on campus.

Citing his solidarity with ‘our brothers in Hong Kong’ (even though women and girls participate in the democracy protests), Fahmi speaks unconsciously in a language informed by patriarchal cultures and spaces within Malaysia that are compelled by visions of a ‘brotherhood’ of peace or justice, whether Malay, Muslim or both.

The problem lies with the predominant usage of ‘mahasiswa’ itself in student activist campaigns (Like Kuasa Mahasiswa or Student Power), usually without the need to include mahasiswi with the implicit understanding that mahasiswa refers to both male and female university students. Like ‘mankind’ and even ‘human’, such an implicit assumption of purported inclusion makes the exclusion of women convenient.

The general historical trend of student politics and societies in Malaysian universities has been characterised by segregation along gender, ethnic, state, and religious lines. However, there have been occasions in which students overcame segregation for a common political cause. The female and non-Malay faces of the UKM4 is one such example but they are relatively rare by comparison.

The Sri Kandi societies in Malaysian public universities are bastions of Malay female students and their political, if mostly auxiliary, organising on campus. And yet, ‘mahasiswi’ is either classed as secondary to the primary identity of mahasiswa or sidelined altogether in the present discourse on student activism.

The marginalisation of female university students or mahasiswi could really mean a few things; that the default figure of student leadership is male and Malay and that female presence within the walls of academia is undervalued (an understatement many would contend). The over-representation of mahasiswi by their sheer numbers on Malaysian campus does little to dismantle the male stranglehold of academic culture and its future.

Reasons behind the failure of mahasiswi to be at the forefront of student activism right now may lie in the way protest and civil disobedience are regarded as politically and morally transgressive in Malaysia. But what is more likely is that protests are masculine spheres of action. They are ritualised as brute physical mobilisation, agitation, and direct collision with the state. At times, protests co-opt militaristic and imperialistic nomenclature, such as ‘occupy’ to make transgressions and law-breaking more respectable.

Mass protests are sites of sexual violence in order to render women and girls especially vulnerable to a kind of humiliation and fear that men are supposedly immune to. Risks of sexual violence, trauma, and shame alone can alienate female protestors from taking a leading and confrontational role in mass protests.

There are multiple disciplinary regimes – legal, religious, and culture ones – that hem in young Malaysian women from attaining their full potential. These disciplinary regimes are also at work within the physical compounds and imaginary of the Malaysian campus. Student activism in Malaysia is disinterested in gender and sexual politics unlike the feminism on US and British universities that tackle sexual violence.

The normative structure of student politics in Malaysia that mimics the status quo of Malaysian politics is left untouched despite the present uprisings. So many things need to be disrupted, resisted, and dismantled within the supposedly precious space of academia to get to the root of the problem – hegemonic Malay Muslim male authority.

Social mobility versus social climbing

I’ve recently written and submitted a research proposal on social mobility amongst the Indian female underclass (mostly plantation workers and their descendants) in pre and post-independence Malaya. Despite the predominating narrative that the life potential of the Indian underclass is impeded by caste inequality, ethnicity, and by being female, I was nonetheless interested in channels that facilitate degrees of social mobility; marriage to a higher caste/class individual/family, the (inverse) number of children a woman bore, level of education, opportunities to other kinds of paid employment and migration to other towns and cities. Social mobility, understood here as an upward movement (though there is such thing as a downward trend) towards a higher station in life, is a positive venture towards greater equality in society.

By contrast, social climbing, though also understood as the deliberate advancement up the rungs of society’s ladder, is perceived as a negative thing. Social climbing implies the manipulation of people/resources and self-aggrandising in order to arrive at a desired rank of social prestige. The problem with this rank of social prestige is that it is precarious, especially for those insecure in their personal disposition. Precariousness notwithstanding, the social climber jockeys for position, whilst discarding people who have helped them on their way. There are critics, however, who question the negative connotations of social climbing and wish to recuperate it into something positive, even necessary, for social groups that are historically disadvantaged.

On a more personal note, my own experiences of befriending social climbers have tended to come to a sticky end and occur in spaces where hierarchy, status, and distinction (Bourdieu, 1979) define the tenor of community dynamics; privileged and highly-qualified middle class Malaysian society, and more often than not, female-dominated spaces. Perhaps other factors that intersect with gender may play a more significant role for reasons why I find myself being the stepping stone of a female social climber. But at the moment, I don’t know what those factors are.

So social mobility is about economic uplift while status accrued from social climbing is not necessarily for monetary ends. If I can conclude without being annoyingly tautological: social climbing is distinguished simply by its social dimension and operates through the social climber’s self-differentiation from those who are, in the climber’s eyes, ‘inferior’ in status.

Reference:

Bourdieu, Pierre (1979) La Distinction, Routledge.