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Class and Cosmopolitan Striving: Mothers' Management of English Education in South Korea

From: Anthropological Quarterly
Volume 77, Number 4, Fall 2004
pp. 645-672 | 10.1353/anq.2004.0063


This article considers the practical and symbolic value of English in South Korea. We argue that English works as an index of South Korea's and South Koreans' cosmopolitan striving in the global order. We assert, however, that the values of English diverge across the class spectrum. We thus examine the life of English and cosmopolitanism through the narratives of three mothers with distinct class positions on their management of their children's English after-school education. We consider the mothers' interest in and commitment to their children's— and in some cases their own—English education as an inter-generational gendered project. We examine the ways in which mothers' management of this after-school English education speaks to their own class mobility (or maintenance) and cosmopolitan strivings. The article asserts that English works simultaneously as both a local and global sign, and that nationalism and cosmopolitanism are not contradictory.