New Citizens Participation and Struggles for Participation and Struggles for : An Oral Case Study of Identity Construction of North Korean Defector-Residents

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Yi, Hee Young
Issue Date
Center for Social Sciences, Seoul National University
Korean Social Sciences Review(KSSR), Vol.1 No.1, pp. 143-184
North Korean defector-residentsNorth Korean refugeesminority‘struggle for recognition,’ identity (re)constructionself-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 Honneths 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.
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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)
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