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7 MIGRATION AND MORAL PANIC The Case of Oil Palm in Sabah, East Malaysia Fadzilah Majid Cooke and Dayang Suria Mulia Migration as the act of crossing jurisdictional (state) borders and as being influenced by push and pull factors in sending and receiving countries is a well-established area of study (Lee 1966, p. 50; Martin 1991, p. 177; Hugo 1995, p. 283; 1998, p. 1), but has been met with renewed interest in more recent work on borderlands and metaphoric borders (Tagliacozzo 2007, p. 3, Abraham and van Schendel 2005, pp. 18–19). For the state, migration raises problems of citizenship which has so far been equated with the rights of the inhabitants of a country. The flood of workers from neighbouring countries, whether legal or illegal, creates problems when they are not citizens and yet have rights as workers, requiring a rethinking of issues of citizenship entitlements, if not of citizenship itself (Castles and Davidson 2000, pp. 91, 184). In the study of borderlands and metaphoric borders, analysis of the shaping and reshaping of identity/ies, and the legality or illegality of social action, takes account of notions of agency and creativity among both migrants and actors in the host society (Abraham and van Schendel 2005, pp. 24–25, Tagliacozzo 2007, pp. 6–7). Consequently, border areas are viewed as places 140 07 Palm_Oil.indd 140 10/3/12 2:38:09 PM Migration and Moral Panic in Sabah 141 of opportunity for migrants as well as for specific groups in the host society such as those in the service industry as well as the “immigration industry”. This chapter benefits from this latter trend in the way migration is viewed as operating within a metaphoric borderland, and as producing creative power for both migrant groups and actors in the host society. Much of the labour required in oil palm plantations in Malaysia is supplied by migrant workers (see Saravanamuttu, this volume, for a discussion of this overall phenomenon). Plantation labour in Sabah is largely from neighbouring Indonesia (especially Bugis) and a sprinkling from the Philippines. Yet migrants are not well received by sections of the population that view their presence as politically or economically threatening. In the newspapers, migrants are presented as opportunists who test the tolerance of locals by overusing facilities and services that citizens enjoy for free. They are also viewed as cheats who allegedly use fake identity cards to gain citizenship rights. This chapter examines the process of demonizing migrants in Sabah and argues that demonization is useful for many groups who have access to the media as well as to those who are exposed to migrants in their economic lives. The work of Cohen (1972, pp. 16–43) on the social construction of deviance (as folk devils) and the creation of moral panic in society appears relevant. This chapter contextualizes Cohen’s work by focussing on Sabah, and asks to what extent his approach is relevant to the local situation. In the newspapers the views of political elites (political parties in power), law enforcement officials, and employers tend to be privileged. Although there is a range of views among these actors, we focus on those that are given the most prominence in the Sabah media. We refer to their views as the dominant view. We contrast the dominant view with those held by some groups who may not be given equal exposure in the media. Focusing on two groups of workers, namely (1) Sabahan taxi drivers who transport migrant plantation workers and (2) Sabahan workers who work alongside migrants in the plantations, this chapter examines the ways in which their views may be similar to or different from the dominant view. For some of the Sabahan workers, demonization of foreign workers may help in the fine tuning of their own identities by clarifying who they are not. METHOD Between 1990 and 2003, the total land area under oil palm in Sabah doubled, covering an area of close to 1.2 million hectares (Majid Cooke 07 Palm_Oil.indd 141 10/3/12 2:38:09 PM 142 Fadzilah Majid Cooke and Dayang Suria Mulia 2006, p. 8), increasing to 1.4 million hectares by 2010, the latter amounting to approximately 75 per cent of the estimated available agricultural land in Sabah (POIC 2010). The bulk of oil palm is grown in the eastern part of the state, much of it on large plantations, with only an estimated 7 per cent grown by smallholders (Majid Cooke...


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