Working Paper 211

Sentimental Textures of Personhood among Indian Muslim Family Businesses in Malaysia

Waseem Naser

Department ‘Law & Anthropology’

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 211

This paper presents ethnographic research conducted among Indian Muslim family businesses in Malaysia from October 2019 to September 2020. Their business practices depended on an intimate connection between the economic and domestic, sustained through the inculcation of particular sentiments. Yet, my interactions with them were frequently punctuated with expressions of ambivalence regarding these practices and sentiments. Some interlocutors saw their traditions and cultural practices as sustaining their businesses; for others, it is rather that their businesses provide an avenue for sustaining their traditions in Malaysia. This ambivalence was particularly pronounced among the younger generation, who grappled with the choice of whether to continue within their family businesses, or seek their livelihood elsewhere. By focusing upon sentiments attached to the family that incite motivation and productivity in the business, the article explores these business practices as a means of grasping forms of personhood among them. The conceptual focus on personhood is brought into conversation with the burgeoning literature on the anthropology of emotions. Specifically, the paper proposes that emotions can be conceived as a ‘technique’ of the body/person; it illustrates this through an ethnography of communities that privilege emotions as an aspect of social relations and embodied existence.

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