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Disembedded and free-floating bodies out-of-place and out-of-control: Examining the borderline existence of adopted Koreans
Stockholm University, Faculty of Humanities, Department of Oriental Languages, Division of Korean Studies.
2005 (English)In: 14th Nordic Adoption Council Meeting and 1st Global Adoption Research Conference, 2005Conference paper (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Since the end of the Korean War over 150,000 Koreans have been adopted to 15 different Western countries. Up until recently, governments and organisations, and groups and individuals variously involved with Korean adoption were the only ones who spoke for and represented the adopted Koreans who were subalternised and deprived of their voice and agency. As a result, the group was invisibilised in migration and diaspora, and ethnicity and race contexts, overlooked by Asian and Korean overseas communities, and underresearched by Asian and Korean Studies scholars. A Western colonialism perceived international adoption as a rescue mission, and as a left-liberal progressive act and a way of creating a multicultural family, and a Korean nationalism utilised the adoptees as physical bonds with Western allies and made claims on them as part of its diaspora policy. For the adoption agencies, Korean adoption was marketed as the flagship of international adoption, while adoption researchers represented the group as the most ideal transracial adoptees. It was not until the end of the 1980s when adopted Koreans started to organise themselves and reach out to each other, that the group for the first time was able to speak up and speak out about their own experiences and make themselves heard of in the public. From the mid-1990s, there has been a veritable explosion of adopted Korean autobiographical works creating a cultural field of its own and encompassing such diverse genres like novels, plays and poems, performances, art works and paintings, comics and children’s books, and documentaries and films. These self-narratives make it possible for the first time to listen to the voices of the adopted Koreans themselves beyond what has been previously written and said on the group. The purpose of this study is to try to understand the adopted Korean experience by examining a corpus of adopted Korean autobiographical texts. Drawing upon a social-constructivist understanding of subjectivity and postcolonial, queer and feminist theories of hybridity, performativity and intersectionality, the point of departure is that the adopted Koreans have been subjected into a white self-identification, while they at the same time always risk being racialized into Oriental stereotypes, minoritised into non-white immigrants, and essentialised into Korean nationals. Furthermore, the group as a whole is often infantilised and proletarianised as being adopted and orphaned children, and feminised and heterosexualised as being ethnic East Asians. The study starts by reviewing previous studies of adopted Koreans, theories of subjectivisation and ways of reading self-narratives. After a background to Korean adoption, Western colonialism and Korean nationalism, and the adopted Korean movement, the study goes through the four principal identifications (Whiteness), imaginaries (Orientalism), discourses (Immigrantism) and interpellations (Koreanness) which adopted Koreans usually encounter and are navigating between, and looks at how these intersect with issues concerning class and age, and sexuality and gender, by citing and interpreting excerpts from the selected self-narratives. At the end, an attempt is made at conceptualising the adopted Korean existence.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
adopted Koreans, subjectivity
National Category
Specific Languages
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-22100OAI: diva2:188627
Available from: 2006-04-09 Created: 2006-04-09Bibliographically approved

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