S-Space College of Social Sciences (사회과학대학) Center for Social Sciences (사회과학연구원) Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR) Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR) Vol.01, No.01 (2011)
New Citizens’ Participation and ‘Struggles for Participation and ‘Struggles for : An Oral Case Study of Identity Construction of North Korean Defector-Residents
- Yi, Hee Young
- Issue Date
- Korean Social Sciences Review(KSSR), Vol.1 No.1, pp. 143-184
- North Korean defector-residents; North Korean refugees; minority; ‘struggle for recognition,’ identity (re)construction; self-respect; ‘generalized Others’
- Translated from the published article in Korean Journal of Sociology, 44(1): 207-241, 2010 with permission from the The Korean Sociological Association.
- North Korean defectors who are settling into South Korean society are becoming a
‘meaningful’ minority. Having experienced the ideological antagonisms produced by the
Cold War and now trying to make their lives in South Korea, i.e., on the other side of the
political border, these actors’ biographies are of great socio-theoretical significance as a social
reality mutually constructed by the individual and society. Following this perspective, this
study employs a qualitative methodology to examine the socio-political identities of North
Korean defector-residents as they are (re)constructed in interaction with ‘generalized others’
in Korean society.
The case study shows, firstly, that North Korean defector-residents carry out everyday
recognition struggles in order to assert their civil rights which cannot be reduced to South
Korean citizenship. Transcending the binary political logic of having to choose between ‘pro-
North’ or ‘anti-North’ as well as going beyond the legal belonging known as ‘citizen of the
Republic of Korea’, they engage in various forms of everyday struggles for recognition, from
‘devotion,’ and ‘assimilation,’ to ‘superiority’, and ‘criticism.’ This can also be understood as a
process of identity (re)construction whereby North Korean defector-residents interact with
the reality of being disrespected by generalized others in South Korean society—as coming
from an ideologically hostile nation or as ‘food refugees’—, and through which they strive to
secure their self-respect and social esteem.
Secondly, the settlement of North Korean defector-residents in South Korean society
signifies the participation of new citizens with personal life stories, political belonging, and
socio-cultural experiences that differ from those of other South Koreans. In particular, the
various forms of ‘distancing’ based on the biographical experiences of North Korean defectorresidents
do not indicate their ‘lack of adaptation’ to the dominant value system in South Korean society, but rather imply the possibility of acting as a new critical power for South
Korean civil society.
Thirdly, in order to overcome the limitations of existing research on North Korean
defector-residents’ ‘adaptation’, this study explores theoretical possibilities of understanding
them as active subjects of a multicultural civil society. In this process, the author inquires
into the discussions on identity formation based on the notion of ‘recognition struggle’ as one
such possibility. At the same time, the findings show that Honneth’s ‘struggle for recognition’,
which implicitly presupposes the modern nation-state as the public sphere for action, is
limited in conveying the lives of migrant and other minorities that are actualized by acts of
border crossings between states.