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A museum, the city, and a nation

[journal article]

Lepawsky, Joshua

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Abstract The purpose of this article is to understand how a corporate museum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia works to create proleptic myths of nationhood to under-gird a broader state-centric project of nationalist—capitalist modernization. The article examines how these myths are expressed in the museum's design plans and are manifested in the museum's displays and spatial layout. From this analysis it becomes apparent that, first, the museum's designers intend for Malaysian museum-goers to both learn and embody particular myths of national modernization. Second, the museum's displays are dedicated to establishing a Malay-centric origin narrative for the contemporary nation-state. Third, as one moves through the museum, Malay-centrism gives way to narratives of a `multi-racial' society that link technological modernization with social progress. Eventually, however, `race' is trumped by `class' as the social identity category deemed appropriate for `information age' citizenship and nationhood in Malaysia in a story that parallels broader cultural and political—economic state-centric aspirations to achieve `development'. The deployment of `class' in this context melds strategies of government with selective aspects of neoliberalism that seek to manage the possible cultural and political experiences of nationalist—capitalist accumulation and democratic authoritarianism in contemporary Malaysia. I suggest that while these aspirations expressed through the design of the museum might appear to overcome certain limitations of racial communalisms among different Malaysians, they also dissemble underlying symbolic and material violence that enforces a state-centric stability on the possible meanings of citizenship and national identity in contemporary Malaysia.
Keywords Malaysia; museum
Free Keywords Identity formation; modernization; myth;
Document language English
Publication Year 2008
Page/Pages p. 119-142
Journal Cultural Geographies, 15 (2008) 1
Status Postprint; peer reviewed
Licence PEER Licence Agreement (applicable only to documents from PEER project)