International Development Planning Review

Towards a moral ecology of the city: A new form of place-based identity and social action in Penang, Malaysia

International Development Planning Review (2008), 30, (3), 267–291.

Abstract

This article discusses a new form of identity and social action that is articulated by its proponents as specifically local and place-based, urban, regional and multi-ethnic, but also potentially global in relevance. Rapid development has fostered a growing awareness in Penang, Malaysia, that intensified urbanisation has created many problems – both material and social – that are truly shared across groups, and that addressing them requires an inclusive, holistic attention to urban space itself. In this view, everyone and everything in a particular place should properly be seen as linked: a moral ecology of the city. The analysis uses ethnographic data to show how members of a new social action group in Penang organised themselves around this principle and how they found in the 'power of place' a new tool with the potential to enhance civic consciousness, increase popular political participation, overcome an unresolved colonial legacy of ethnic divisiveness, and improve the quality of everyone's life in the city.

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Zabielskis, Peter