Complex Culturalism Vs. Multiculturalism: The South Korean Approach to Cosmopolit(an)Ization

Friday, 20 July 2018: 08:45
Oral Presentation
Kyung-Sup CHANG, Seoul National University, Republic of Korea
The literally explosive growth of transnational marriages between Korean men and poorer Asian women seemingly signals that South Korea has entered a genuinely new epoch of cosmopolit(an)ization. This unprecedented phenomenon has drastically reconfigured diverse corners and peripheries of South Korea into manifestly multiethnic entities. The national and local governments have been quick in initiating a comprehensive policy of “multicultural family support” whereas various civil groups, media, and even business corporations have echoed the governmental drive with their own multiculturalism initiatives. As agents of what I define here as complex culturalism, South Korean institutions and citizens have instrumentally, selectively, and flexibly incorporated into themselves various historical and civilizational sources of culture in order to expediently consolidate the postcolonial sociopolitical order and then to maximize socioeconomic development. It should be noted that this complex cultural system used to be embodied in the South Korean nation or population as a supposedly homogeneous racial entity (dubbed danilminjok). The mass presence of “multicultural brides” seems to have further reinforced complex culturalism by enabling South Korean citizens and institutions to conveniently interpret that their open accommodation and active support for the marriage migrants help make their cultural complexity a more self-contained civilizational property. However, the more their multiculturalism as part of their self-centered globalism is framed through arbitrarily staged experiences, the more the Asian marriage migrants will remain differentiated, if not discriminated, from native Koreans. What nevertheless remains to be seen is if the foreign brides themselves could or would ultimately accommodate South Korean culture (and even South Koreans’ self-centered globalism) and thus sustain the nation’s cultural status quo or if they would permanently be asked or forced to preserve and display their home-country cultural characteristics as an indispensable condition for native South Koreans’ still elementary multicultural experiences and feelings.