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Title: North Koreans in South Korea : humanitarian subjects and neoliberal governance
Author: Hough, Jennifer
ISNI:       0000 0004 6493 8700
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2017
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This thesis uses the narratives of North Koreans living in South Korea (t'albungmin) to understand how they make sense of their positioning in South Korean society. Based on 21 months of ethnographic fieldwork in Seoul, this study attempts to illuminate the contradictory nature of citizenship for young t'albungmin living under the dictates of neoliberal humanitarian governance in contemporary South Korea. As a result of the specific geopolitical configuration of the Korean peninsula, there are contradictory perceptions of North Koreans as compatriots, victims, and enemies: perceptions both affecting and affected by the role of t'albungmin in South Korea's political economy. I consider citizenship a site of negotiation, influenced by South Korean modes of neoliberal humanitarian governance, which encourage t'albungmin to become autonomous, self-managed subjects at the same time as subjecting them to humanitarian reason which, conversely, rewards passivity and compliance. There is a further contradiction between their automatic entitlement to South Korean citizenship and the neoliberal imperative to demonstrate productivity and deservingness. In light of these contradictory imperatives, perceptions and discourses surrounding issues such as accent, deservingness, and responsibility come to take on significant explanatory power in the lives of young t'albungmin. In this context, South Korean policies and NGOs both discursively and practically construct t'albungmin as different and naturalise them as dependent, with this sense of unequal relations structuring their subsequent relations with South Koreans. I argue that this sense of differentiation reflects a particular mode of governance, which in turn illuminates the workings of citizenship in the South Korean context. I also consider the implications for t'albungmin when supporting them is conceptualised as a humanitarian act. While South Koreans portray their society as a 'community of value' in which t'albungmin are constructed as humanitarian subjects, this thesis illustrates how the narratives of t'albungmin contest this interpretation.
Supervisor: Biao, Xiang ; Gellner, David Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Anthropology ; Ethnography ; South Korea ; resettlement ; North Korean defectors ; narrative ; refugees ; migration