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OnderzoekCentre for East Asian Studies Groningen

Lecture GSG/CEASG | Immigrant Brides and Husbands: Dynamics of Racialization and Patriarchy in East Asia

Wanneer:do 15-02-2018 om 16:00
Waar:Room 1315.0049, Harmonie Building


Contemporary shifts in international migration toward more industrialized Asian countries, such as Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, China, and South Korea are raising questions about conventional understandings of the concept of race and racial inequality as a phenomenon of European and white settler countries. This Korean case study shows an example of how the racialization of immigrants intersects with patriarchal social structures in relation to contemporary economic (mostly marriage and labor) migration in East Asian countries, where the concept of ‘race’ and the ideology of racism has rarely been examined.

South Korea is known as one of the most ethnically and racially homogenous countries in the world. However, since the early and mid-1990s a rapidly growing marriage immigrant and foreign migrant worker population from neighboring Asian countries, such as China, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia, Mongolia, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Japan has led to an increased awareness that South Korea is becoming more ethnically and racially diverse. In response to the dramatically growing numbers of marriage immigrants, the South Korean government has supported multicultural integration programs for marriage immigrants through Multicultural Family Support Centers. Yet a closer look at who the multicultural activities are geared towards, and what they actually entail, reveals that the South Korean government supports the integration of foreign brides, but not of foreign husbands.

Why is the South Korean government highly inclusive of foreign brides from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, despite strong undercurrents of ethno-nationalism and the myth of ethnic homogeneity? At the same time, why is the government not inclusive of foreign husbands?

In order to answer these questions, CEASG Visiting Researcher Ms. Seonok Lee examined the everyday life experiences of two categories of marriage immigrants in South Korea: foreign brides and foreign husbands from South and Southeast Asian countries. Drawing upon ethnographic research (2013-2014) on marriage immigrants and Koreans in South Korea, she argues that the racialization of these immigrants plays a central role in reproducing the patriarchal family structures, which contemporary Korean women are increasingly resisting. This research project offers a theorization of the intersectionality of racialization and patriarchy - not typically analyzed in its co-formation - through what I call ‘patriarchal racialization’. Patriarchal racialization is a gendered racialization process whereby patriarchal gender roles are emphasized for foreign brides in order to minimize racial differences, while racial differences are emphasized for foreign husbands in order to exclude them from the national community. This results in the peculiar situation whereby children of a Korean father and a foreign mother are seen as racially closer to Koreans than the children of a foreign father and a Korean mother. Patriarchal racialization reinforces the continued ethno-racial belief in patriarchal blood lineage – the belief that lineage passes down through father’s line.

Seonok is a Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Sociology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada. She is a visiting research in Center for East Asian Studies Groningen. She is currently writing her doctoral dissertation on how the production of race and racial hierarchies is deeply intertwined with economic migration and global capitalism in contemporary East Asia.