Citizenship and Belonging: How do North Korean Defectors 'become' South Korean?


Thursday, November 12, 2020, 4:00pm to 5:00pm


Online Event (Zoom)

Korea Colloquium (This event is part of the Race and Racism in Asia and Beyond Series, co-sponsored by the Harvard Asia Center, Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies, Lakshmi Mittal and Family South Asia Institute, Program on US-Japan Relations, Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies)

Jennifer Hough
Korea Foundation-Korea Institute Postdoctoral Fellow, Korea Institute, Harvard University (DPhil from the University of Oxford, 2017)

Dr. Jennifer Hough is a Korea Foundation-Korea Institute Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University for 2020-21, and a social anthropologist specializing in the politics of inclusion and exclusion in divided societies, with a particular interest in questions of citizenship, belonging, and identity. She received her DPhil from the University of Oxford in 2017. Based on long-term ethnographic fieldwork, her thesis analyzed the specific conditions that young North Korean migrants encounter after arrival in South Korea, exploring the gap between the expectations and realities of resettlement. Her publications have appeared in Geopolitics and Critical Asian Studies, and her research has been supported by the UK Economic and Social Research Council, the Academy of Korean Studies, and the Pony Chung Foundation, among others. She is currently working on a book manuscript that uses the detailed narratives of North Korean migrants to explore their experiences of limited inclusion, analyzing the mechanisms of their hierarchical differentiation and the ways that they actively work to achieve a sense of practical belonging in South Korean society. Before joining Harvard, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at Korea University and SOAS University of London.

Over 33,000 North Koreans have arrived in South Korea since the Korean War in the 1950s, with the majority migrating since famine in the North in the mid-1990s. As a result of the specific geopolitical configuration of the Korean peninsula, South Koreans view North Koreans as compatriots but also as victims and enemies: contradictory perceptions that affect their daily lives as they attempt to integrate into South Korean society. My work as a whole looks in detail at a further contradiction, between their immediate official recognition as South Korean citizens and the more open-ended process of achieving a sense of practical belonging. Although North Koreans receive South Korean citizenship upon arrival, they often describe feeling inferior to South Koreans due to perceived discrimination and prejudice. Consequently, many speak of feeling a personal responsibility to prove themselves to be deserving and responsible and, in this talk, I outline some of the kinds of active work that they undertake in an attempt to gain the recognition of South Koreans around them.

Chaired by Nicholas Harkness, Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University
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