Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Peter Hitchcock

Subject Categories

Asian History | Asian Studies


Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, Malaysia, National Identity, Postcolonial Studies, Race


In recent decades, literary studies has experienced a global turn, often understood as a move beyond national paradigms of analysis, which are deemed to be narrow and particularistic. Although wary of the tacit universalizing tendencies of global frames, scholars of race and postcoloniality have critically embraced the global by arguing for the need to theorize transnationalism from marginalized perspectives. However, casting the global and the national in oppositional terms ignores the fact that national racial ideologies both actively shape and are shaped by globally circulating ideas about race. An understudied site in postcolonial studies, Malaysia--formerly known as Malaya--is an exemplary case that unsettles this binary opposition. Informed by racialized distinctions between "native" and "migrants" inherited from colonial rule, the constitutionalized "special position" of "bumiputera" (literally sons of the earth or autochthonous group) citizens effectively renders race a defining aspect of national identity.

This dissertation presents translation as an entry point into theorizing the relation between the national and the global in the production of the Malaysian racial imaginary. Drawing on theories of cultural translation, I begin with the premise that translation is a process of figuration, rather than a transfer of uncontaminated cultural essence, from one mode of signification to another. Through analyses of graphic narratives, novels and films, I consider how various modes of translation are used in these texts both to articulate a common national identity that unifies these groups, and, at the same time, to maintain their racialized distinctions. I argue that discerning the modes of translation embedded in the process of national identity formation--what I call, reading nation in translation--elucidates the transnational historical forces, be it the reordering of the British Empire amidst its impending end; the burgeoning global Cold War; or the intensification of global financial capitalism in the late twentieth-century, that shape the national racial imaginary. Reading nation in translation thus contributes toward a critical conception of transnationalism, one that not only presents the nation and the global as oppositional frames of analysis, but as mutually haunting one another. In foregrounding the global forces, both past and present, that animate the national racial imaginary, it also argues for the importance of attending to processes of racialization as a mode of globalization.