2017. 227 p.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis




Through the lenses of social identity theory and the faultline model, this study explores: (i) the attitudes of individuals towards inter-ethnic interaction in a society with deep ethnic faultlines, and; (ii) How these attitudes influence the patterns of their formal and informal interactions at workplace/study environment. Faultline model predicts the exacerbation of categorisation in case of alignment of multiple diversity aspects. Ethnicity, depending on the context, takes on multiple meanings and in the Malaysian context of this study, is linked to religion, language, culture, and a history of socioeconomic status and political allegiance.
Based on 51 semi-structured individual interviews in healthcare settings in Malaysia, it was found that while formal interactions followed hierarchical lines to a great extent, informal interactions were characterised by attitudinal orientations of individuals. Three categories of such attitudes were identified as resistance, tolerance, and transcendence. The first and third categories exhibit clear negative and positive attitudes towards diversity, respectively. The second and largest category is signified by ambivalent, indifferent, and neutral attitudes towards ethnic diversity.
The likelihood of positioning in these categories was linked to several factors: relative size of the ethnic group, socio-economic positioning, religiosity, and earlier inter-ethnic socialisation opportunities. The relative importance of these factors vary between the different ethnic groups. As for their numerical majority, Malays were more likely to lack early inter-ethnic socialisation. This was found to be the main predictor of diversity attitudes of Malays. The social stereotypes of rich, intelligent, and capable resulted in the perceptions of ethnic superiority among some of the Chinese interviewees. A sense of unfair treatment- mainly resulting from affirmative action policies- added to this feeling to negatively affect the diversity attitudes of the Chinese.
Indians, as the smallest major ethnic group in Malaysia, and the one with neither the backup of the affirmative action policies nor the economic networks of the Chinese are usually marginalised and viewed as the lower class group associated with crimes. This position has resulted in a profound sense of unfair treatment among them. The extent of this feeling was linked to the socioeconomic background of the individuals and influenced their diversity attitudes. This points to the role of socioeconomic status in defining the nature of one’s social experiences and attitudes.
In organisational settings, the availability of an individual’s ethnic peers interacted with the diversity attitudes of the person to shape their interactional patterns. These patterns ranged from assimilation and out-grouping to sub-grouping and withdrawal. Moreover, religious barriers, mainly through limiting commensality, were found to play a prominent role in inhibiting inter-ethnic socialisation. Nonetheless, this research has shown that even in a society segregated along ethno-religious lines, hybridity is very much present and individuals do interact across social boundaries. The tolerant behaviour exhibited by the majority of the interviewees is similar to the pragmatic cosmopolitanism Southeast Asia is historically known for.
Overall, the diversity attitudes and interactional patterns observed in this study reflect the dynamic interplay of macro-level societal dividing forces and micro-level individual tolerances and flexibilities in multi-ethnic Malaysia. This research calls into question the theoretical implications of the faultline model at the macro-level by showing that even in the case of very salient, accessible, and aligning identities, individuals from an ethnic group generally do not identify along a single line.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Award date1 Nov 2017
Publication statusPublished - 20 Sep 2017
This open access research output is licenced under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

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