Professor Shamsul Amri Baharuddin, one of the leading social anthropologists in Southeast Asia, has devoted his research to tackling the problems of Malaysia, a classic example of a multi-ethnic society. The issues he has addressed include reconciliation between different ethnic groups, resolution of religious conflict and poverty mitigation. His achievement in the three fields of academic research, social criticism and education has been outstanding.
Professor Shamsul was born in 1951 in Negeri Sembilan, adjacent to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, and had the very unusual experience of being brought up in a matriarchal society. He studied anthropology and sociology at the University of Malaya, and in 1983 received a doctorate in social anthropology from Monash University in Australia. For his main work, 'From British to Bumiputra Rule' (1986), he conducted field research in the villages of the western Malay peninsula where oil palm and rubber were produced, and revealed, for the first time, the complex reality of Malaysian politics as an interplay between ethnicities, religions, and governmental policies from a grassroots perspective. Professor Shamsul suggests that 'ethnic' (in this case, 'Malay') identity should be reconceived using the three criteria of colonial history, the progress of development politics, and the ordinary life of the people. This book, which combines three distinctive elements - historical research through detailed study of documents kept in the public record offices, policy study tracing the details of rural development after independence, and thorough field work in villages - won international acclaim, and is now regarded as one of the classics of Malaysian Studies.
Professor Shamsul's work goes beyond academic research. He has vigorously discussed social issues in the pages of social criticism journals like those published by Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka (the Institute of Language and Literature), and has responded to requests from international media outlets, including BBC, ABC and NHK, in order to present abroad his passionate arguments about ethnic and religious issues in Asia. His international standing is attested by the invitations he has received from universities/research institutes in Denmark, Germany, Japan, Singapore and the U.S. to be a visiting scholar. He is also unmatched as a research organizer and educator. He has raised the standard of research and education in ethnic studies by reviving the Institute of the Malay World and Civilization (ATMA) and founding the Institute of Ethnic Studies (KITA) at the National University of Malaysia (UKM), as well as by organizing a cross-university curriculum designed to improve understanding between different ethnic groups.
In these ways, Professor Shamsul has constantly been at the forefront of research in Southeast Asia into ethnic relations and the Malay world, and has helped people obtain a deeper understanding of these issues. This contribution is highly valued internationally, and deserves the Academic Prize of the Fukuoka Prize.