The politics of public discourse: Conditional inclusion and celebrity North Korean defectors
(SOAS, University of London)
Markus Bell (University of Sheffield)
Paper short abstract:
Based on ethnographic fieldwork with North Koreans living in Seoul, we argue that North Korean celebrity defectors who publicly condemn their country perpetuate a logic of exclusion and contribute to narratives that reinforce a binary of 'good citizen'/'North Korea sympathiser' in South Korea.
Paper long abstract:
Despite holding South Korean citizenship, North Korean defectors describe themselves as feeling excluded from full membership of South Korean society. While some isolate themselves to avoid public scrutiny, this paper conversely considers the celebrity North Korean defector, individuals who gain public profiles and social status by speaking publicly about their lives. Following long-term ethnographic fieldwork with North Koreans living in Seoul, we suggest that there are both pragmatic and symbolic motivations behind the decision to speak publicly, whether on reality television or at human rights events. Accepting payment to perpetuate certain narratives is a strategy for people who often struggle to integrate into the South Korean employment market. We argue that the decision to publically identify as North Korean also marks their entry into a space in which inclusion and exclusion are negotiated. Denouncing North Korea's human rights abuses performs the dual function of highlighting both personal distance from the North Korean state and alignment with the 'good' discourse of human rights - in doing so, celebrity North Koreans signal their allegiance to a moral 'community of value' (Anderson 2013). By reproducing particular discourses as a condition of acceptance, North Koreans may gain in social status as a result of direct payment, educational opportunities, or social prestige. However, their actions reinforce the logic of exclusion, restricting access to these benefits to North Koreans who perpetuate particular narratives. Further, through self-identifying as 'good citizens', they reinforce the binary that stigmatises North Koreans who fail to do so as North Korea sympathisers.
From good immigrants to good citizens: mapping the space of conditional inclusion