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Invisible children? Non-recognition, humanitarian blindness and other forms of ignorance in Sabah, Malaysia

Allerton, Catherine ORCID: 0000-0002-1463-4157 (2020) Invisible children? Non-recognition, humanitarian blindness and other forms of ignorance in Sabah, Malaysia. Critique of Anthropology, 40 (4). 455 - 470. ISSN 0308-275X

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Identification Number: 10.1177/0308275X20959435


In the Malaysian state of Sabah, public antipathy towards the presence of large numbers of migrant workers influences a widespread ignorance of the educational and other exclusions of their children. Children of migrants are rendered invisible in Sabahan cultural discourse because they are not recognized as proper subjects, or even as ‘normal’ children. Cultural denial of such children’s circumstances can be seen in local newspaper reports that consider such children with reference to fears of ‘illegals’ and their threat to future Sabahan citizens. This discourse draws on a particular understanding of child deservingness, and utilizes what Cohen describes as ‘neutralization techniques’. However, such apparently wilful blindness can best be understood by considering it on a spectrum of different forms of ignorance and denial. This includes the blatant lack of recognition afforded by powerful individuals who should be more aware of the children of their workers, the humanitarian blindness of volunteer teachers who over-emphasize the saving power of education, and the complex and situational ignorance of children of migrants themselves. Appreciating other, potentially more benign or protective, forms of denial is crucial to understanding how ignorance of the complexity of the situation of children of migrants continues, even among those hoping to resolve it.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2020 The Author
Divisions: Anthropology
Subjects: J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Date Deposited: 01 Aug 2019 11:54
Last Modified: 04 Jul 2024 17:51

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