Malaysia and Singapore Society of Australia (MASSA) 2023 Symposium

Wilbert Wong Announcement
Subject Fields
Archaeology, Area Studies, Art, Art History & Visual Studies, Contemporary History, Cultural History / Studies

Date: 7-8 July 2023
Location: New Era University College, Kajang, Malaysia.
Convenor: Dr Jason Ng Sze Chieh, New Era University College.

Co-hosted by New Era University College.

Who are you, Malaysia?

Representations of Malaysia's Past, Present, and Future after 60 Years of Nationhood

31 August 1957 saw the birth of the Federation of Malaya. The transformation from the Federation of Malaya to the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963 by incorporating Singapore, Sabah, and Sarawak was historically and politically significant as it is a unity of disparate principalities and territories with variegated ethnic makeup. Brunei agreed initially to be part of the Federation but declined at the final moment. Malaysia, sans Brunei and Singapore, is seen as a successful experiment in consensus building built on an unwritten social contract that preserves and protects the Bumiputera community's culture and religion but with guaranteed rights and prosperity for non-Bumiputera communities such as the Chinese and Indians.

This social contract was initially seen as a necessary arrangement to provide the basis for creating a Bangsa Malaysia. Various approaches, particularly affirmative action, were introduced to move Malaysia from a plural and unequal society toward a multicultural and egalitarian society by levelling economic disparities between races and regions. However, the social contract appears to have become the entrenched doctrine that defines Malaysia through the long-ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) regime and since 2018 by four different coalitions.  

Socially, the Malaysian demography has seen major shifts, with the Bumiputera (69%), Muslims (64%) and the Malay population (63%) now becoming a significant majority, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia. This has led to significant political outcomes, with indigenous minorities in Sabah and Sarawak and the ethnic minorities of Peninsular Malaysia finding themselves gradually disenfranchised in many spheres of public life while gaining traction in other areas.

Malaysia was envisioned as a nation that would traverse a multicultural path with all indigenous and ethnic groups contributing to nation-building and shared prosperity. Nonetheless, Malay ethnonationalism championed by UMNO (United Malays National Organization) and religious-ethnonationalism promoted by PAS (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia) appears to have become the driving force governing Malaysia six decades later, as demonstrated by the recent general election. Many would point to the 13 May 1969 incident as a catalyst for this significant shift, while others may point to other factors, and some may even disagree.

There are pointed arguments that Malaysia is no longer the champion of a particular form of multiculturalism, with the social contract firmly enshrined, as outlined by its founding fathers, let alone the creation of Mahathir's Wawasan 2020 and Bangsa Malaysia dream. Instead, it is increasingly losing the lustre of even a plural society. It is slowly but surely moving into an era of ethnocentrism and Islamisation centred around Malay-Muslim dominance.

We might ask whether this slide towards singular ethnic-religious dominance in all aspects of Malaysian public life is a foregone conclusion? Does the argument that might is right, or does majoritarian politics sway? How much does the nation's history of achieving independence collectively still influence the Malaysian identity?

More importantly, with Barisan Nasional's political power fracturing since the unexpected Pakatan Harapan victory in the 14th General Elections, the success of Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional at GE15, which path should Malaysia take at 60 years old?

Although there is an apparent resistance against extreme ethno-religious-nationalist policies by all ethnic groups, which is demonstrated by the success of Pakatan Harapan and the subsequent formation of a national unity government at the insistence of the Malay Rulers, there is also an equally powerful desire to transform Malaysia into a Malay-Muslim-only-led nation-state, of which PAS's desire to create some form of an Islamic state is merely the most overt and persistent manifestation.

After six decades of nationhood, Malaysia and Malaysians still struggle to define themselves in this fast-evolving post-colonial world. As the world is embroiled in a new East-West political and economic tug-of-war echoing the dark days of the Cold War, Malaysia faces a drastic realignment that threatens the established global order. Covid-19, floods, the China-US tussle, and the war in Ukraine are only tips of the iceberg that expose the nation's social and political fissures and weaknesses.  

The MASSA symposium of 2023 will examine Malaysia's 60th year of founding within national, regional, and international contexts. Naturally, we welcome papers that discuss this topic involving disciplines in the social sciences and humanities. All other issues related to Malaysia will also be considered. The symposium this year will be in a hybrid format.

We are also interested in papers and/or panels that provide discourse on critical issues related to Singapore and Brunei (Islamisation, foreign relations between Malaysia-Singapore-Brunei, etc.) that may be relevant to the theme of Malaysia at 60 given the close cultural, political, and historical links of these countries.

The recommended topics are not exhaustive and are organised alphabetically:

  • Climate change and the environment
  • Culture, religion, and society
  • Economy
  • Education
  • Gender
  • Foreign policy, regional and international relations
  • Health
  • Human rights
  • Human capital development
  • Labour and migration
  • Legal and institutional reforms
  • Nation-building and citizenship
  • Public sector
  • Regime type, coalition building and democratisation
  • Multiculturalism and/or plural society
  • National security and defence
  • Marginalised communities

Paper proposals should include a title, abstract (maximum 500 words), and contact details. Selected papers will be included in a refereed publication.

Paper, panel proposals, and queries about MASSA 2023 should be directed to the Convenor, Dr Jason Ng (

Deadline of abstracts: 28 February 2023
Notification of acceptance: 14 March 2023
Deadline for paper submission: 31 May 2023



Contact Information

Dr Jason Ng

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