[KS] KOREAN STUDIES 2021 Special Section "Unsettling Korean Migration" Preview

Cheehyung Harrison Kim cheehyungkim at gmail.com
Wed Mar 31 19:05:48 EDT 2021

Dear KSDL Members,
As a preview of the 2021 volume of KOREAN STUDIES, I would like to share
the interview with Guest Editors Sunhee Koo (Univ of Auckland) and Jihye
Kim (Univ of Central Lancashire) on their Special Section "Unsettling
Korean Migration." Thanks. (By the way, if you have ideas for a special
issue/section, I'm all ears chk7 at hawaii.edu)

With appreciation,
Cheehyung Harrison Kim

*Transnational Agency and Fluidity of Identity in Korean Migration*
A conversation with guest editors Sunhee Koo and Jihye Kim on the
forthcoming Korean Studies Special Section "Unsettling Korean Migration"


[image: SK and JK KS News Photo.jpg]
Sunhee Koo, left, of the University of Auckland; Jihye Kim, right, of the
University of Central Lancashire.

The forthcoming 2021 volume of Korean Studies has the Special Section
"Unsettling Korean Migration: Multiple Trajectories and Experiences,"
guest-edited by Sunhee Koo and Jihye Kim. The journal editor Cheehyung
Harrison Kim spoke with them about their ethnographic project on Korean
migration, which is once again a topic of critical public dialogue in light
of the recent racist violence against Asians in the United States. Sunhee
Koo, Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at the University of Auckland, and
Jihye Kim, Lecturer in Korean Studies at the University of Central
Lancashire, shared their thoughts on how the project came to be and what
migration research further teaches us about identity formation and human

*Thank you both for speaking with me. Professor Koo: what compelled you two
to put together a journal project on migration and diasporic practices?*
We wanted to bring attention to the plurality and complexity found in the
migration waves the Koreans have ridden on, which produced a myriad of
experiences and ideas related to "Koreanness." The range of social and
cultural negotiations performed by Korean migrants manifests into not only
who they are and what they want to become but also-and more
importantly-individual agencies that constitute what "Koreanness" is today.
Creating an interdisciplinary collection on migration related to Korea and
Koreans was challenging, since the only thread that brought us together is
"migration." This Special Section might be perceived as missing some
uniformity. However, we hope that the discursiveness of these articles
points to the diversity that we need to recognize as Koreanists .

*Professor Kim: What do you mean by “unsettling” migration? Are there
existing notions you are trying to dismantle or move beyond from?*
We are approaching migration as an endless act and an in-process journey,
regardless of how long-ago migration may have taken place. Exploring the
negotiations in the construction of diasporic identities, "Unsettling
Korean Migration" showcases the emergent plurality of Korean identity
manifested and embodied in individual migrants and each migrant group. In
this sense, the very title picks up on two important characteristics of
migration-fluidity and flexibility. These characteristics are also crucial
in identity formation, which can never be separate from the journey of
migration as the journey constantly prompts people to think about their
being and belonging. At the same time, "Unsettling Korean Migration" shows
how the lives of Korean migrants are marked by malleability and creativity
in the process of movement, crossing borders, and settling.

*Professor Koo: Your piece is on Koreans living in Japan. What are some key
takeaways for the readers?*
One key notion in my article is transnational agency, which enables the
migrants to form a bridge between home and diaspora by embedding themselves
in both national and transnational socio-cultural fields of their choice-as
Zainichi Korean artists have done by associating themselves with South
Korean national cultures. While their adaptation and transplantation of
South Korea's IICP (Important Intangible Cultural Properties) system in
Japan reflect the Zainichi Korean communities' grappling with postcolonial
anxiety and diasporic identity, I intend to point out how Korean national
culture is just as much transnational as it is historical and social. It
has become individually re-signified and reinterpreted through
transnationalism and globalization, even if its transnational aspects
remain nuanced, especially back home, and are often overshadowed by
nationalist discourses.

*Professor Kim: You write about Koreans in Argentina. Could you tell us
about their diasporic experience?*
Korean migration to Argentina began in the 1960s as a part of South Korea's
migration wave to Western countries in the second half of the twentieth
century. This migration may have been motivated by a longing for the West,
equated with modernity and industrial advancement, and its promise of
social and cultural mobility. Much more economically advanced and developed
than South Korea back then, Argentina was one of the favorable destinations
for Korean migrants, like many European migrants; and the Korean community
in Argentina grew and became stable until the turn of the millennium. The
socioeconomic environment of the host society, particularly the economic
decline in the last few decades, has had a critical influence on the more
recent movement and settlement of Korean Argentines, to the extent that
many of them have strengthened their links with Korean communities in the
United States and with the home country, as many have re-migrated either to
the United States or South Korea. In these social and historical contexts,
Korean Argentines have established and reestablished their identities and
lives-and played a part in the Korean diaspora-by embedding themselves in
and connecting with their home and host countries.

*Professor Koo: Why do you think migration continues to be an important
topic of research?*
We are living in the "age of diasporas," as Zygmunt Bauman has pointed out.
The migrant experience with tension and dynamics related to separation and
connection, leaving and returning, and loss and longing will endlessly
compel us to reconfigure our being and belonging in the coming decades. The
outbreak of COVID-19 last year has shown us how our transnational
communities has faced sudden difficulties of disconnection and uncertainty
of moving and returning. Today's transnational migration is often thought
to be without the problems of previous diasporas thanks to technological
advancements, but the challenges the migrants face presently with
geopolitical borders and border crossing are perhaps more intense than ever
before. The age of diasporas continues to present us with endless topics
and issues that we need to address in the coming decades, in order to
understand who we are and how we live at local and global levels.

*Professor Kim: What effects do you think global Korean migration have on
South Korea and North Korea?*
Since the 1990s, growing international mobility and transnational
connectivity have brought about significant changes in South Korea,
creating a culturally and ethnically more diverse and plural environment,
with hybrid identities, mindsets, and lifestyles. Korean migration has made
these changes even more active, as it fosters a variety of identities and
agencies among those who live in, and between, multiple homes and residency
statuses. Korean migration also reveals social and experiential plurality,
both at home and in the diaspora, which mutually reinforces the ethnic
complexity of Koreans. In the case of North Korea, although changes have
been slower than South Korea, North Korean migrants, too, have certainly
maintained connections between home and diaspora. In fact, North Korean
migrants have played a crucial role in linking North Korea with the
countries they have transited through or settled down, contributing to a
better understanding of North Korea and a better communication for North
Korea with the outside world.

The Spring 2021 volume of *Korean Studies* is to be published in May.
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