Migration, Migrants, and Contested Ethno-Nationalism

Migration, Migrants, and Contested Ethno-Nationalism in Korea

Author: Yoonkyung Lee


This study examines the demographic and discursive challenges taking place against Koreans' long-held ethno-nationalism. While Koreans have formed their national identity based on the notion of ethnic homogeneity, an increasing influx of migrant workers and foreign brides is dramatically transforming the demographic landscape of South Korean society. This article presents the empirical realities of recent demographic changes within the South Korean population and identifies three mechanisms that have raised critical voices against the essentialist and exclusivist tendency found within Korean nationalism: protests by migrant workers, advocacy and support from social movement organizations, and discursive criticisms from academia and mass media. All these have contributed to the loosening of Korean ethnocentrism - a trend evident in recent survey data on Koreans' national identity. This article underscores that the real contradiction lies between Koreans' attachment to the nationalist identity that undergirded their political survival and economic success during the nation's turbulent modern decades and the present realities of a multi-ethnicizing population that demands pluralist and fluid understandings of social membership and collective identity.

Regions: East Asia
Countries: Korea
Topics: Migration

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September 2009
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