Going into Labor: Gender, Migration and Neoliberal Lives in South Korea Restricted; Files Only

Choi, Suyun (Fall 2019)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/b5644s82s?locale=en


This dissertation examines a particular form of migration, namely, marriage migration, that prevails in South Korea in order to reframe how we understand the neoliberal encounters and modes of life that unfold in the experiences of migrant women. Specifically, I analyze how South Korea's response to the reproductive crisis mobilizes gender to invent “marriage migration” as a new governmental category. The South Korean government woos marriage migrants by implementing various forms of support for them to become good wives and mothers of Korean families. In contrast, it keeps labor migrants as a cheap and disposable labor force by limiting their legal stay to within 5 year.Grounded in 16 months of fieldwork in Ansna, South Korea’s “migrant city,” my dissertation investigates women’s migratory journeys both in the contexts of ‘marriage’ and ‘labor’ migration – a process that I term going into labor’ – to deliberately highlight the intrinsic inseparability of productive and reproductive labor in migrant women’s experiences. In this light, I ask three broadly interconnected questions, which touch on the themes of subject, culture and power that neoliberalism promotes and operates through. First, how do migrant women navigate and disrupt the categories of labor and marriage migration to pursue certain aspirational visions? Second, in what contexts and through what kind of strategic practices do migrant women deploy the cultural differences they embody as entrepreneurial resources? Third, how and to what extent do migrant women become a part of governing practices that seek to fix migrants—both labor and marriage migrants—into governable subjects? My analysis highlights how neoliberal forces and migrant women’s desires are not exclusively oppositional but woven together into an entrepreneurial ethos that reinterprets nationhood, family, cultural differences, and transnational lives in economic terms. Through my analysis, I highlight the necessarily gendered forms such power takes--of support, nourishment, care, and self-affirmation–forms, which is less examined in the literature on neoliberal governmentality. This immanent critique, that is, examining the gendered ground and effects of the neoliberal regime of life, I hope, opens up other framings to conceptualize feminist politics and intervention amidst the proliferation of neoliberalism.  

Table of Contents

Introduction  1

Chapter One: On the Neoliberal Subject, Culture, and Power 48

Chapter Two: Factory Workers, Foreigner Moms and Flourishing Lives? 68

Chapter Three: Multicultural Entrepreneurs 94

Chapter Four: Governing through Support 122

Conclusion 147

Bibliography 160

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