Spirits of Resistance and Capitalist Discipline

Factory Women in Malaysia

By Aihwa Ong

Series: SUNY series in the Anthropology of Work
Paperback : 9780887063817, 286 pages, July 1987
Hardcover : 9780887063800, 286 pages, July 1987

Alternative formats available from:

Table of contents

List of Abbreviations

List of Tables, Maps and Diagrams


Part I Capitalist Development and Cultural Experience

1 Spirits and Discipline in Capitalist Transformation

2 Malay Peasants from Subsistence to Commodity Production

Rural Malay Society on the Eve of British Intervention

Colonial Rule: Malay Immigrants and Peasants

Constructing a "Malay Yeomanry"

Malay Peasants Under Colonialism: The View from Below

Part II The Kampung Society of Coastal Selangor

3 Tropical Confluences: Rural Society, Capital, and the State

A New Tropical Configuration: Kebun, Ladang, and Free Trade Zone

Rural Malays, Land Hunger, and Bureaucratic Capitalism

Administering Rural Development and Bureaucratic Culture

4 Sungai Jawa: Differentiation and Dispersal

Tanam Modal, Jual Tenaga: Planting Capital, Selling Labor Power

Emergent Class Structure

5 Domestic Relations: The Reconfiguration of Family Life

Families, Spirits, and Other Familiars

Boys and Girls: Schooling for Success

Daughters and Sons: Cooperation and Conflict

The Fractured Day

6 Marriage Strategies: Negotiating the Future

Marriage Strategies of Earlier Generations

Marriage Strategies and the Commodity Logic

Delayed Marriages and Sexual Images

Part III Neophyte Factory Women in Late Capitalism

7 The Modern Corporation: Manufacturing Gender Hierarchy

Capitalist Discipline and Cultural Discourse

The State, Export-Industrialization, and Cultural Models

Japanese Corporations in Kuala Langat

8 Neophyte Factory Women and the Negative Image

Sexual Metaphors and Social Control

The Kampung and the World

9 Spirits of Resistance

A New Subjectivity

Unleased Spirits: The World Decentered

10 Conclusion






Why are Malay women workers periodically seized by spirit possession on the shopfloors of modern factories? In this book, Aihwa Ong captures the disruptions, conflicts, and ambivalences in the lives of Malay women and their families as they make the transition from peasant society to industrial production.

To discover the meaning that the market economy and wage labor hold for Malay peasants, Ong conducted anthropological field work in an agricultural district in Selangor, Peninsular Malaysia, which is undergoing rapid proletarianization. Weaving together history, ethnography, and quantitative analysis, she addresses many questions pertaining to peasants and state policies. The book shows how the diverging roles of young men and women are increasingly channelled, by educational and labor market pressures, toward conformity with corporate culture and capitalist discipline.

A unique feature of this book is the portrayal of Malay women workers in Japanese factories, caught between their culture and the culture of capitalism. Ong argues that cultural values and practices—both Islamic-Malay and foreign—are reworked and reconstituted in the industrial hierarchy. Her vivid accounts of hysterical episodes, violent incidents, and women's self-perceptions provide insights into their attitudes toward capitalist relations.

By illuminating the encounter of Malay peasants with global industrial production, the book also throws light on the attitude of neophyte wage workers elsewhere in the Third World.

Aihwa Ong is Professor in the Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley.