Virtuous citizens and sentimental society: ethics and politics in neoliberal South Korea Public Deposited

Downloadable Content

Download PDF
Last Modified
  • March 21, 2019
  • Jun, EuyRyung
    • Affiliation: College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Anthropology
  • This dissertation argues that while South Korea's developmentalist regime prior to the democracy struggles in the 1980s focused on the economic dimension of Korean social life, with the rise of civil society into the democratic era, it is the moral dimension of development that has been emphasized. I explore this project of moral development through the activities of migrant centers that have provided social, legal, and medical services to foreign migrants and acted as their main advocates since the 1990s. Based on ethnographic and archival research, this dissertation focuses on the new social and ethical landscape created by the issue of foreign workers, marriage immigrants, and multicultural families. First, I examine the problem of the human rights of the foreign worker, which essentially relied on the advocacy work by civil society groups such as migrant centers in the absence of the state's interest in protecting them. While the moral welfare of foreign workers became dependent on the benevolence and philanthropic activities of caring volunteer-citizens, the issue of foreign workers has become a matter of maintaining the moral integrity to the history of Korea's own emigration as well as of creating an empathetic society that is based on the value of sharing through more volunteer work and donations. Second, I locate the state programs for marriage immigrants and their multicultural families within its larger efforts to cope with the country's recent demographic changes that are characterized by low fertility and rapid aging. I show that the state's multicultural programs have emerged as part of its governance of the given crisis and of the emergent populations that potentially disrupt existing social integrity, while the multicultural programs that are organized by migrant centers become a self-disciplinary project aimed at the general citizenry. Since its emergence, the problem of foreign migrants has been a good subject to be utilized for the project of moral development led by civil society actors in South Korea. This dissertation explores how this project of engineering the social and ethical dimensions of the subjectivities aimed at the maturation of civil society is increasingly shaped by the neoliberal model of civic responsibility and empathy.
Date of publication
Resource type
Rights statement
  • In Copyright
  • "... in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the Department of Anthropology."
  • Nonini, Donald
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Place of publication
  • Chapel Hill, NC
  • Open access

This work has no parents.