Hegemony and Spaces of Knowledge/Power in the Conceptualization of Malaysia’s new ‘intelligent cities”: a Foucaultian analysis of
Malaysia’ s Multimedia Super Corridor
by Azly Rahman
(written at Columbia University, 2002)
This essay concerns how what is connotated by the phrase “digital or cybernetic revolution” is “inscribed” onto the landscape of humanity, particularly that of Malaysia, a state governed by what de Certeau (1984) might term as, the “scriptural economy.” It starts with the premise that a concept can become ideology, and then architectural landscape, and then a paradigm of control over political, cultural, and economic spaces. It hopes to suggest how human beings are conditioned and opiated by signs and symbols produced and reproduced by those who own the means of technological and intellectual productions (Marx & Engels, 1967). The central feature of this brief study is an exploration of the nature of hegemony as consciousness-production and the creation of what Varenne (2003) might term as “constraints of culture” rather than the creation of its “possibilities” for human liberation. I am exploring how ideas flow transculturally, become inscription, get installed as systems of control, and evolve into ideology that becomes yet another indigenized systems of thought and material- formation.
In my exploration of the concept of hegemony, I am concerned with its nature and the subdivisions it produces, as well as with how the system of consciousness-formation is layered in all its complexities and become what Marx would now perhaps call “prozac” of a higher potency and dosage. To this end, this study looks at the conceptualization and the building of the “intelligent” and “digital” city of Cyberjaya in hyper-modernizing Malaysia, a business capital and the economic nerve of a grand-scale real estate project called “Multimedia Super Corridor” (henceforth, “MSC”) of the regime of Mahathir Mohamad, her fourth Prime Minister.
I propose that the introduction of new technologies into social spheres will facilitate the maintenance of ideology, which will then help direct policies, establish new institutions that will then create newer forms of hegemonic conditions that will continue to benefit the ruling class. I argue, hegemonic conditions, processes, and consequences will further advance the development of higher forms of technologies that will then, through the idea of human-machine interaction, establish better systems of control. Such a cyclical and structurally systematic operation, as I have suggested in the cycle of hegemony in Figure 1 below, determines the nature of the sophistication of hegemony. Hence, the owners of the means of production of technologies will also be executive directors of the processes. Spaces of knowledge/power are created.
FIGURE 1 HERE
Rather than addressing hegemony merely from a “Gramscian” perspective, I choose to analyze this concept using a mixed-method approach. I call this formulation “towards a theory of hegemonic formations” and use multidimensional perspectives to look at how the concept of “cybernetics” transforms the development of this state in Southeast Asia. I hope to generate a “thick description” of the hegemonic process. This study looks at the “high and low stakes” of nations undergoing development in the age of high-speed globalization and ideological rapidization.
The idea of Malaysia’s Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC), a grand project of social transformation, is a major feature of its political leadership’s agenda for national development. University lecturers like me were considered part of the class of “knowledge workers” mandated to explain to the people what these changes are about and how these benefit the rakyat (“the people”). I was a lecturer in Malaysia’s sixth public university, Universiti Utara Malaysia in Sintok, Kedah (which specializes in Management studies) teaching courses such as English as a Second Language, Foreign Policy, Management Ethics, and Thinking Skills. The mid-1990s saw the intensification of the development of Malaysia’s management sciences based upon advanced principles of Taylorism (Schmidt & Finnigan, 1993; Vavrek, 1992) which then permeated into virtually all spheres of management, including perhaps “Islamic Management System.” The idea of the MSC was part of the ethos of Information Systems Management, which would then be a formula to “cybernate” the nation towards progress and to “quantum leap” Malaysia into the Information Age (Mohamad, 1998). It was felt that the nation needed a newer set of installation as “commanding heights” of the scriptural economy. Mahathir Mohamad, the fourth prime minister oversaw the major national transformation. The ideology of technological progress and the notion of riding the waves of globalization along with the steering of the nation to a “Vision 2020” (a metaphorical date of the end of the benchmark of national development) —all these became the raison d’etre and the leitmotif of the Mahathir regime.
My research question/Inquiry theme
My interest in this brief study is to find out how variant the concept of hegemony might be, and how might Focoult’s idea of space/knowledge (Foucault) be applicable in looking at the issue of control in the spaces of power human beings create.
Rationale for the Study
Why study Malaysia? It is an interesting state which can be looked at as a “laboratory of social and global experimentation” after having undergone historical periodizations such as pre-colonial kingdomship and “overlordships,” colonialism, independence, development of statehood, and finally, participation in the globalized economy. The rationale of this study lies in investigating the role technology plays in the deep-structuring of hegemony and how it interplays with the political and the productive forces of the state. Another rationale lies in studying the way capitalism is characterized into what many scholars have termed as “informational” capitalism (Castells, 2000). I also hope to uncover the political psychology of control (see Marcuse, 1985) as the system has evolved culturally; a blend of traditional systems of control aided by an emergent system technologically-inspired (see Beniger, 1986).
In studying the idea of “inscriptions,” a key feature of this exploration, the study will attempt to contribute to our understanding of how “concepts get inscribed” onto the landscape and then become ideology which then become consciousness which ultimately continue to change the relations of production and brings about the creation of a technological culture. I now present a background of the country.
Malaysia: Geography, Demographics, History, and Politics
In the following sections, I discuss the background information, namely the geography, demography, history, and politics of Malaysia that will help situate this study of Malaysian transformation.
Malaysia consists of East and West Malaysia of which the former is an island that also includes the Indonesian territory of Kalimantan and the latter, a peninsula. The South China Sea separates the two land mass (see the map in Figure 13). The country is located on the Southeastern part of Asia, consisting of a peninsula and the island of Borneo that borders Indonesia and the South China Sea, south of Vietnam. Malaysia has a total size of 329, 750 square kilometers. It has a tropical monsoon climate. Its strategic resources are tin, petroleum, timber, copper, iron ore, natural gas, and bauxite.
The 2002 population of Malaysia is estimated to be about 23 million people, with almost 2 per cent rate of population growth. About 34 percent of its population is between the age of zero to fourteen, almost 62 percent between the ages fifteen to 64, and about 5 percent falls in the category of sixty-five and over. Malays and indigenous peoples collectively termed as “Bumiputras” (literally “Sons of the Soil”) consist of 58 per cent of the population, Chinese 24%, and Indians and others 10%. Malay or Bahasa Malaysia is the official language while English, Chinese (of various dialects such as Cantonese, Mandarin, Hakka, Hainan, and Foochow) and Indian (of the dialects Tamil, Telegu, Malayalam, and Panjabi) and Thai are spoken. In East Malaysia, the languages of the tribes of Iban and Kadazan are spoken. The literacy rate is 83.5 per cent of the total population. The current emphasis in this country’s literacy education is on “computer literacy” or the ability to be technologically literate so that the people can fully participate in the “Information Age” and be intellectually resilient enough to participate in the globalization process (Mohamad, 2002).
I will now sketch a brief history of Malaysia, particularly of it as a former British colony, to situate the development of The MSC that houses Cyberjaya. Ancient history of the Malay peninsula chronicle the region as a vibrant crossroad of trade called “The Maritime Silk Trade Route” in which the crosswinds help facilitate the maritime trade in Asia (Braddell, 1980; Jacq-Hergoualc’h, 2002). The earliest most powerful kingdom that is linked to the Malays is Sriwijaya (Coedès & Damais, 1992). Arguably, the history of modern Malaysia began with the founding of the kingdom of Melaka (Malacca) in the early 1400. Islam, brought to the Malay Islands by Arab and Indian Muslim traders in the 1300s, was the religion of the traditional rulers of the Melakan kingdom and the feudal system was the feature of statecraft. Melaka was said to be established by a Javanese prince Parameswara in exile from a power struggle in Palembang, Sumatra (Osman, 1997). The prince, before reaching Melaka, transited in the island of Temasik, (in what is now the city-state of Singapore,) and murdered the Siamese overlord that was governing the island under a Siamese tutelage system. Escaping to the neighboring peninsula, Parameswara rested under a Melaka tree in a spot he came to immediately like after he witnessed a kancil (a small reindeer-like animal) overcame a dog. Upon seeing that incident, Parameswara decided to name the declared area of his kingdom, Melaka after the name of the tree he was resting under. Hence generations of the Javanese assassin-prince came to be known as Sultans, ruled the enlarged territory of strategic waterway significant to the growth of the early Malay kingdom (Bastin & Winks, 1979).
The kingdom of Melaka was short-lived; the navigational and gun power of the Portugese was more superior to those of the Melakkans. The kingdom fell to Portugese rule in 1511. The Portugese possessed superior navigational and military technology, facilitating the conquest of Melaka. The date became the earliest of a series of European colonialism. Melaka, after the Portugese, was taken over by the Dutch who saw Southeast Asia as an economic region rich in spices (Andaya & Andaya, 1982).
Next came the period of British colonialism. The superior sea power of the British Empire as well as its sophistication in navigational and gunnery technology, fuelled by the Christian military-millinearistic ideology of "Guns, Guts, and Glory," facilitated Malaya to be handed over from the Dutch. British rule was the longest of the colonial rules; it left an indelible impact on the historical-materialistic and ideological landscape of the once considered glorious Malay kingdom (Funston,1980; Gullick, 2000; Milner, 1982). The British colonization of Malaya, much like that of the Dutch in Indonesia, the French in Indochina, the Spaniards in the Philippines (Tarling, 2001), was the feature of nineteenth century imperialism.
On August 31st, 1957 Malaya was officially and peacefully granted independence. It was in September of 1963 that the Federated and non-Federated states of Malaya, Sarawak, Sabah, and initially Singapore united to form what is now known as Malaysia (Funston, 2001; Khoo, 1991; Ongkili, 1985). In 1965 however, the busy port of Singapore, one of the earliest British Straits settlement, ceased to be a member of the Malaysian federation and became an independent city-state. The newly formed Malaysia had to “expel” Singapore for political, geographic, electoral, and demographic reasons—Singapore had too many Chinese that would threaten the new Malay-dominated federation (see for example, Milne & Mauzy, 1999). There were several reasons why the British gave Malaysia its independence. One is that it is costly for the Britain to maintain the states because of the growth of Malaysia's population, and the ailing British Empire saw that it was no longer profitable to maintain colonies.
Furthermore, the attractive idea of self-determinism was gaining momentum especially in the form of nationalist struggles, armed or un-armed, all over the world, with the Beijing-based Marxist-Leninist inspired Malaysian Communist Party as an example of anti-colonialist and anti-imperialist armed struggle (Chin, 1994). In Malaysia, education in various forms was beginning to produce people within each of the ethnic communities not content to leaving their future entirely in British hands. Anti-colonialist attitudes were stirring in the 1930's, heralding strong Malay political organization later (Khoo, 1991; Milne & Mauzy, 1986).
Independence was granted also when the natives were perceived as already been given enough skills and training to govern the country albeit in the style of British colonial administration known as the Civil Service. Many from the aristocratic class went through the process of education for social and political enculturalization through the British education system. Sons of the Malay sultans were sent to Britain to pursue studies in law and administration. In Malaya itself, English-medium (known as “English-type”) schools proliferated in all the states paving way for a systematic form of education for social reproduction and for the continuation of British Imperialist ideology. In other words, the structuring of hegemony or the inscribing of the ideology of colonialism at the level of education of the nations was a feature of the strategy of British imperialism (Heussler, 1981; Stockwell, 1995).
An important consequence of colonialism was thus the creation of a class of administrative elite among the "Sons of the Soil": or the Bumiputras out of the sons of the traditional Malay Sultans. Malaysia's first Prime Minister, Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra Alhaj, son of the Sultan of Kedah, was educated in Britain. Trained in the British Administrative tradition, he governed like a British official inspired by Malay nationalism couched in British idealism inscribing British tradition of civil service onto the minds of the traditional people. Malaysia's second Prime Minister Abdul Razak, and the third Prime Minister, Hussein Onn, was also British-educated. Malaysia's fourth and recently retired (on October 31st 2003) Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, is the only Malaysian Prime Minister that was not British-educated (see Cheah, 1999).
The education of Mahathir Mohamad and the system he evolved through, has contributed much to the manner the state's development policies were engineered, illustrated in his early writings on society, politics, and education (Mohamad, 1995). His fondness of "Looking East," i.e. his deep admiration of the Japanese and "Buying British Last" and his suggestions of creating an "East Asia Economic Caucus" (EAEC) are among the slogans and proposals used to create a sense of identity in the few decades after Independence (Milne & Mauzy, 1999). It is against this backdrop of this Malaysia’s fourth Prime Minister, and his administration's coming back to "Asian values" whilst at the same time, seeing the power of Information Technology that the MSC was created (Moggie, 2002).
As mentioned earlier, Malaysia was granted independence on the 31st of August 1957 and was established as a Federation on July 9, 1963. Its political system is one of Constitutional Monarch, fashioned after the British monarchy and Parliamentary systems, understandably because of the influence of British colonialism. It has nine hereditary rulers in charge of religious and ceremonial affairs to safeguard the interests and rights of the Malays. The hereditary rulers elect their Supreme Ruler or the Yang Di Pertuan Agong every five years (CIA, 2003). The head of state functions as a rubber stamp monarch to facilitate the operations of the State. The parliamentary system is bicameral, consisting of a non-elected Upper/Senate/Dewan Negara and an elected Lower House/House of Representatives/Dewan Rakyat. There are thirteen states and two federal territories (of Kuala Lumpur and Labuan). The newest federal territory is the city of Putrajaya, an ancillary subject of this study (CIA).
At present, the National Front (Barisan Nasional) which consists of a coalition of communal/ethnic-based political parties has ruled Malaysia since Independence. The United Malays National Organization (UMNO) dominates the coalition that consists of The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), The Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) and other ethic-based parties from East Malaysia (Mauzy, 1983). The leader of the coalition has traditionally become the Prime Minister. At the time of the writing of this dissertation, an alternative coalition, called Barisan Alternatif, was formed out of three parties namely Malaysian Islamic Party (Parti Islam Se-Malaysia), National Justice Party (Parti Keadilan Malaysia), and the Malaysia People’s Party (Partai Rakyat Malaysia). It is expected that the coming general election of December 2003 will see the communal-based ruling coalition party being seriously challenged by the new opposition-coalition that aspires to create a new politics organized not along communalism but on social justice, human rights, and inter-racial understanding. The unresolved multivariate issues concerning economic development, democracy, human rights, communalism and class politics will be the areas of contestation of the politics of this nation (Said & Emby, 1996).
In the preceding sections, I have briefly outlined the geographic, demographic, historical, and political aspects of Malaysia. These provide a background to this study of a nation with almost eighty percent of its economy engaged in service and manufacturing, a transition from the agricultural-based economy. The history of the nation is characterized by periods of transformation from one political entity to another: overlordship, kingdomship, colony, to self-government and sovereign state integrated into the closely-knit global production system. In the following chapter, I shall detail the development of the MSC. The medical doctor turned politician became the Prime Minister of Malaysia on July 16, 1981 (i.e. for more than 22 years) in a Malaysia that has been independent for only 46 years. He finally retired on October 31, 2003.
I now proceed with a review of select literature.
Review of Selected Literature
The Mantra of Information Technology and its Sources
In Sanskrit, the word “mantra” (mentera in Malay ) means formula. In the context of this study, the mantra is correlated to the idea of a grand strategy or a belief system in the form of political ideology that permeates the consciousness of the leader and the led or the author and the authored. Inscribed onto the consciousness of the people, via print, broadcast, and electronic media is the mantra of economic success rapidized by information technologies. The formula for success many developing nations, such as Malaysia, is undertaking is one characterized by the dependency on Informational Communications Technologies (ICT) particularly on the technology of the Internet/broadband to fuel the engine of capitalist development, relegating the state as a haven for cheap pool of labor in the microchips industry (McMichael, 1996). The mantra of success is one driven by the belief in the formula of “cybernetics.” I will discuss how the cybernetic chant, one orchestrated and broadcast by the government, permeates through the social environment.
In this section, I shall relate the idea and genealogy of cybernetics to the idea of what is currently known as “Information Age” or its varying and more fanciful terms such as “The Age of Cybernetics,” or “The Networked Economy,” or “The Digital Age.” I will then relate the idea of this “formula” of cybernetics to the notion of “inscription” of the ideology onto the landscape of human consciousness since the beginning of the second half of the twenty-first century.
The idea of “Information Society” or “The Network Society” stems out of the revolution in computing and has transformed our psychological, ideological, and material landscape of humanity. Social relations of production are altered and transformed as a result of new patterns of division of labor in what Gleick (1988) would call patterns that arise out of randomness and chaos.
There are different levels of meaning of cultural change as it is impacted historically by “technologies of the body,” such as the Internet. In the case of cybernetics as technologies of the mind, this seems to be a “natural progression of late stage of capital formation” and in fact, as Marcuse (1941) and many a Frankfurt School analysts (e.g. Horkheimer, 1973) would call an age wherein technologies are at its final stage of development which will actually liberate humanity out of mundanity as a consequence of automation. Hence cybernetics, as a foundation of artificial intelligence and a philosophy close to the Cartesian philosophy of the mind and appealing to the "philosophy of human liberation via technological feats," is at the present, the highest stage in the development of techno-capitalism. This proposition is reminiscent of Lenin’s conclusion on the analysis of capitalism made almost a century ago (Lenin, 1916).
Writings on social structures and political theory have primarily centered on the relationship between Capital, Humanity, and Nature. Many have written on how capitalism appropriates natural resources through the creation of labor and surplus value, which will then establish classes (See Frank, 1966; Wallerstein 1981, 1990; Wignaraja, 1993;) and habitus (Bourdieu, 1994). The debates that rage between the proponents of free market enterprise and command or controlled economies revolve around the issue of human nature, and who gets to control the production and dissemination and the monopoly of capital. At times, on a different plane there is also the reflection on the need for capital to be interpreted not only as physical or material, but also as cultural, and metaphysical. The central issue of these writings and debate and reflections is of equality and equity; an issue that continues to plague humanity in this age of rapidized technological developments, as echoed by many a contemporary social theorist (Bell, 1976; Ellul, 1964).
In the age of cybernetics, Rousseau’s (1755/1992) notion of the discourse on the inequality amongst men can be used to explain the evolution of contemporary social problematique such as digital divide, architecture of power, and the erosion of the Self into fragmented and miniscule selves (Turkle, 1997). Other themes also include the furtherance of protectionist democracy via the use of tools of cybernetics, the control over the coding, encoding, and decoding of information by those who monopolize information, and a range of other tools of imperialism and domination and hegemony deployed and employed to the fullest advantage of those who owns the means of social reproduction. And those who own the means to control these processes can also own the means to engineer cultural reconfigurations (see Adorno, 1991; Chomsky, 1989; Horkheimer, 1973; Said, 1993). The nature of thought formation and consciousness production in the world of broadcast media (Bagdikian, 1983) can be exemplified in the media capitalism of Rupert Murdoch whose empire span Britain and the United States (Fallows, 2003) made possible by the modern oligopolic system of capital accumulation (see for examples, Barnet & Muller, 1974; California Newsreels, 1978 for an early analysis of oligopoly).
The scientific paradigm of cybernetics, by virtue of its origin in the mathematical and exact sciences, out of the Copernican Revolution, of Newtonian physics and of Principia Mathematica, onwards to its march of Classical Physics, and next, Quantum Physics and Informational and Decisional Sciences and so on— is a science which has appropriated the "Natural-ness" of the art of being human. Being a paradigm subjected to the development of propositions, verification by the testing of hypotheses, falsification by the rejecting and accepting of the null, and replicating these processes and so on and so forth (Rosenblueth, Wiener, & Bigelow, 1968), cybernetics creates a "space" between what is Natural and what is Artificial. In-between these spaces, Technology as the motivator of civilizations to progress and to dominate, to extent the limits of what otherwise is impossible (for example the navigational technology of Christopher Columbus which made it possible to open up European colonization of the Native Indians of Amerigo Vespucci's America) is also psychologically, a way to create the Technocratic and Authoritarian self. In between these spaces of Nature versus the Artificial lie Media as technology of the mediated self. Technology, as it is developed not by the hands of the "Author" has thence become a powerful tool of the surreal—of inequality amongst men (Rousseau, 1755/1992). Popular culture presents technology as a colonizer of humanity, as exemplified by the theme of the movie, The Matrix (Mason & Silver (Producers), & Wachowski & Wachowski (Directors), 1999).
Cybernetics as a paradigm of thinking about the technology of action and feedback and the loops they produce (see Bertalanffy, 1968; Simon, 1996; Wiener, 1954) is an interesting synthesis of three theoretical orientations: logical positivism, critical theory, and phenomenology (see Bredo & Feinberg, 1982). The paradox is that on the one hand, it is derived from the Classical and Quantum Physics, on the one hand, it is a good foundational philosophy of technologism which combines many fields to form a unified theory of living things (like Critical Theory's attempt to universalize and integrate the disciplines, albeit in a dialectical fashion), and on the other hand, Cybernetics too is phenomenological.
Precisely because we can derive three clusters of theories out of the paradigms above makes Cybernetics appealing and hegemonizing. The Internet as a manifestation of the ideology of cybernetics is a good example of how it is both a technology of advanced logical-positivism, and at the same time, one that is employed to make the concept of democracy more “accessible” when one goes into the study of free speech on the Internet.
Cybernetics and the Idea of Cyberjaya. What is the link between the mantra of Cybernetics and the creation of Malaysia’s Cyberjaya? In Figure 2, I propose a visual representation of a possible link between Cybernetics and Cyberjaya; on how the idea of cybernetics, as Systems Theory (employed to explain the nature of how living systems operate in a loop-feedback fashion, as Bertalanffy (1968) suggested undergoes transcultural evolution. The idea is now interpreted and transmutated by the government of Malaysia to mean the base and superstructure of hypermodern digital cities such as Cyberjaya, a city that embodies a new spirit of national development. Hence, the term evolved from the description of the physics of living things to the politics of domination and control in what I argue, is commonly known in the world of militarism, as the science of Command, Control, Communications, and Intelligence (C3 I).
Malaysia’ s economic development follows the path of Western-styled developmentalism and can be characterized as Wallerstein (1981) would propose, attempting to liberate itself from the shackle of dependency of the post-colonial system. The creation of the Multimedia Super Corridor (MSC) (see Multimedia Development Corporation [MDC], 2003) is a testimony of the political leadership’s subscription to the Rostowian and many a laissez-faire theorists’ model (see for e.g. Rostow, 1960) of economic growth.
Castells and Hall (1994) also wrote about the developmental feature of states undergoing economic transformations as a result of the informational revolution, in what the authors term as the development of “technopoles” or new economic growth centers as a consequence of the computer revolution. The MSC is in fact, inspired by the success of the California’s Silicon Valley and Boston’s Highway 128 (Castells & Hall).
In the preceding paragraphs, I illustrate the notion of “inscriptions;” how the idea of “cybernetics” drawn from Quantum Physics, gets enculturalized onto the landscape of the Malaysian advanced developmentalist project called “Cyberjaya”—all these under the logical-positivist notion of human and national development.