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Maternal Guardians: Intimate Knowledge and Affective Boundary-Making Among South Korean Volunteers for Migrant Women

Friday, September 26, 2014
12:00 AM
LSA 4154

This talk examines the intimate labor of South Korean middle class women who volunteer in social integration programs for migrant women entering South Korea via cross-border marriages. Examining the shared affect of pride and frustration among women volunteers, this ethnography demonstrates the role of emotions in boundary work around intersecting social categories. Rather than privilege ethnic boundaries within the migrant encounter, I find that the South Korean middle-class women volunteers engaged in ethnic boundary work that intersected with gender and social class, as they asserted their moral worth and authority as the “maternal guardians” of migrant women. These boundaries were drawn against a perceived lack of intimate knowledge of migrant women on the part of other social actors including male volunteers and organizers, privileged upper-class funders and state representatives, and the lower-class marital families of migrant women. Intimate labors with migrant women thus became the medium through which these middle-class South Korean women pursued respect and recognition in the face of their own gendered and classed discontent in contemporary South Korea.

Hae Yeon Choo is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Toronto. Her research centers on gender, transnational migration, and citizenship. Her interest in using intersectional analysis empirically informs her articles in Sociological Theory and Gender & Society. Her book manuscript Shadows of Citizenship: Gender, Labor, and Migrant Rights in South Korea (under contract with Stanford University Press) offers an account of how inequalities of gender, race, and class affect migrants’ practice of rights through a comparative study of three groups of Filipina women in South Korea—factory workers, wives of South Korean men, and hostesses at American military camptown clubs. She has also translated Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought into Korean.

Hae Yeon Choo, Sociology, University of Toronto