Idea and Public Discourse in Policy Change: The Case of Migrant Labor Policy in Korea, 1990-2003

Thursday, July 17, 2014: 5:45 PM
Room: 313+314
Oral Presentation
Juyoung LEE , Sociology, Brown University, Providence, RI
This study examines public discourse about migrant workers and migration labor policies in South Korea between 1990 and 2003. Using a content analysis, this paper traces how public discourse that appeared in newspaper editorials and opinion columns evolved over time, in tandem with the transformation of migrant labor policy from the Industrial Trainee System (ITS, 1991-2003) to the Employment Permit System (EPS, 2003-present). In particular, I will contrast the period of 1995-1997 during which the efforts to change migrant labor policies were made but ended in failure with the period of 2000-2003 during which the efforts resulted in the successful legislation of the EPS, highlighting two major discourses: (1) the human rights theme and (2) the national economic development theme. The human rights theme was prominent among the advocates of EPS; the national economic development theme were so among the advocates of ITS. The results show that, while the national economic development discourse remained relatively stable over time, the human rights discourse gained its popularity by tapping into Koreans’ historical experiences and further developed by reflecting and changing ethnically homogenous Korean culture. In addition, there were differences in how each policy position (i.e., the Pro-EPS and Pro-ITS arguments) had incorporated these two themes. The Pro-ITS argument relied mainly upon the national economic development theme, and did not succeed in incorporating both two major themes. In contrast, the Pro-EPS argument, which had built on the human rights theme until 1997, later developed to incorporate not only the human rights theme but also the national economic development theme. This study concludes that there were significant changes in public discourse between 1990 and 2003, which may affect the transformation of migrant labor policies in 2003.