Force, dwelling, and the personhood of things in urban Malaysia

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In this article I interrogate how dwellings constitute a force in ordinary urban environments in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. I argue that such forces are activated relationally via the demand for interpretation that structures elicit from the human beings who build, inhabit, and circulate within and between them. Following Miguel Tamen, I regard the act of interpretation as a process of person-making. This claim resembles Ingold’s revised concept of animism, although this article ultimately resists the use of this concept, as it appears to confuse personhood with life. Rather, the force that dwellings possess in urban environments such as Kuala Lumpur is located in the fact that they are often perceived as non-human, non-living persons capable of exerting certain forms of force proper to them within these environments. Thus, I argue that a critical element of how KL residents forge an emplacement within, and belief in, their ordinary life worlds was the necessity to interpret the character of their dwellings which were, in turn, acts that attributed to the built environment certain elements we would typically associate with persons. In sum, this article is a reflection on the personhood of things, the various intensities of force that such thing-persons exert on human forms of living, and the outcomes that result when this ability to act disrupts or contradicts the interpretative frameworks that made them agents-of-sorts in the first place.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-445
Number of pages8
JournalComparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017


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