Malay women, non-Western soap operas and watching competencies

Md Azalanshah Md Syed, Christine Runnel

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    Soap opera is a potent cultural site for Malay women to imagine the meanings of modernity. Initially the Malaysian government promoted non-Western soap operas to circulate the state's vision of alternative Asian-style modernities. Now the authorities have voiced a concern that some images and discourses of transnational modernity articulated even in non-Western soaps pose a threat to the cultural integrity of Malay women. This paper studies the significance of non-Western soaps to an understanding of gendered expectations and the progressive re-territorialization of the socio-political order in the context of an ethos of mediatized cultural globalization. Our referent is patriarchal Islamist state Malaysia. We conduct an empirical case study exploring Malay Muslim women's negotiation and understanding of non-Western soap operas in Malaysia. Results from a series of guided in-depth interviews with 12 rural and urban Malay women enable us to understand how they negotiate their position as viewers of these non-Western soaps, given the criticism about the supposed immorality of these programs. We argue that Malay women act as strategic audiences who mobilize sophisticated viewing tactics that we call 'watching competencies' to negotiate the pleasures and potential conflicts of their access to non-Western soaps. This research indicates that Malay women are neither passive, vulnerable consumers of foreign soap, nor easily manipulated by those who claim authority; rather, they confidently assert their autonomy as consumer-citizens of a modern Islamic state.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)304-323
    Number of pages20
    JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
    Issue number3
    Early online date2014
    Publication statusPublished - 13 Nov 2014


    • Alternative modernity
    • Audience studies
    • Critical transculturalism
    • Islamic feminism
    • Malaysia
    • Soap operas
    • Watching competencies


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