Syed Hussein Alatas

Syed Hussein Alatas was born in Bogor, West Java, in 1928. He was sent to Johor Bahru for his primary education. His studies were interrupted by World War II during which he returned to be with his parents in Sukabumi, West Java. He witnessed Indonesia’s revolution and independence and soon after, returned to Malaya to complete his studies. He chose to do his undergraduate and postgraduate studies at the University of Amsterdam, partly because of the opportunity to learn another language (besides English) and exposure to literature other than those from the Anglo-Saxon world. After completing his PhD at the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences in 1963, Alatas returned to Malaysia as a lecturer to teach at the Department of Malay Studies at the University of Malaya. He then served as Professor and Head of the Department of Malay Studies, University of Singapore (later, National University of Singapore) from 1967 before taking up the position of Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya in Kuala Lumpur from 1988 to 1991.

Alatas’ major works cover the critique of colonial discourse, the sociology of corruption, the study of modernisation and development, historiography of the Malay world, and the study of Muslim reformist thought. Underlying all his works was the concern with the problem of intellectual imperialism, the lack of a functioning group of intellectuals in the Third World, and his call for an autonomous social science tradition. He also promoted the idea that certain forms of socialism were in line with the worldview of Islam. Syed Hussein Alatas’ last position was Professor and Principal Research Fellow at the Institute of the Malay World and Civilisation, National University of Malaysia. His publications include Thomas Stamford Raffles, 1781-1826: Schemer or Reformer? (1971), Modernization and Social Change (1972), Intellectuals in Developing Societies (1977), The Myth of the Lazy Native (1977), and Corruption: Its Nature, Causes, and Functions (1990).

Prof. Alatas passed away on 23rd January, 2007 at his home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.