In the past, the notion of a common Korean ethnicity shaped how North Korean migrants in South Korea understood themselves, and in turn were viewed and assisted by the South Korean government and its resettlement regime. However, new frameworks of belonging have emerged that focus on molding the North Korean migrant population into either “multicultural” (tamunhwa) or “global” (kŭllobŏl) citizens of South Korea. These are two competing, locally inflected idioms of “flexible citizenship” (à la Aihwa Ong) that are meant to capture North Korean migrants’ border crossing experiences and transnational aspirations. Based on 15 months of ethnographic fieldwork, conducted between 2009 and 2017, this article examines the development of these new narratives of belonging. The “multicultural” framework emerged to categorize North Korean migrants and nonethnic Korean migrants together for provisions and services, whereas the “global” framework values the ability of upwardly mobile North Korean migrants to navigate transnational environments extending beyond South Korea. This article examines the process by which the “global citizenry” framework has overpowered the “multicultural” framework because the former provided North Korean migrants with a narrative that granted more economic opportunities and enhanced their role in the envisioned future of a unified Korea. This article brings into sharp relief the key role of the government and its migrant resettlement regime in shaping these new narratives. It also shows the ways in which the “global citizenry” narrative has become intertwined with a new kind of nationalist trope rather than replacing the old ethnic nationalist narrative.


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pp. 123-148
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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