Yongusil 83: Narrative, Identity and Citizenship: How North Korean Defectors Shape Politics at “Home” and Abroad

By | March 28, 2016 | No Comments

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North Koreans who escape from their country of origin tend to be regarded with a mixture of fascination and pity afterward. But despite the trauma that many of them have experienced on the journey from North Korea, these individuals are rarely simply passive victims. Instead, they play an active and important — but often overlooked — role in the politics of the Korean peninsula, and the effects of their activity echo around the region and the world. Both Koreas pay significant attention to the experiences, activities, and narratives put forward by these individuals, as does the international community.

In a panel at the Association for Asian Studies annual conference on the morning of Sunday, April 3, a small group of scholars will come together in an interdisciplinary conversation that seeks to elucidate the politics around North Korean defectors, examining their activities and the reception of their experiences on the Korean peninsula and globally. The panel will be chaired by Andrew Yeo (Associate Professor, Catholic University of America, Politics), who is doubling up as discussant. (See panel information below.)

Sandra Fahy (Assistant Professor, Sophia University, Anthropology) examines North Korea’s response to the claims made by leading defector-activists, particularly in the wake of the use of these testimonies in the 2014 report by the United Nations’ Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in the DPRK. She traces North Korea’s attempts to turn international “naming and shaming” campaign on its head by naming specific defectors and discrediting their testimony, and identifies discursive patterns that illuminate North Korea’s conception of human rights.

Christopher Green (PhD Candidate, Leiden University, Korean Studies) analyzes how Pyongyang has attempted to use “re-defectors” to manipulate information in ways that are conducive to the regime’s survival. He focuses on the use of these press conferences to promote a consensus on life inside and outside the DPRK, and shows how the information propagated in these events is manipulated, rejected, or reproduced by ordinary people.

Steven Denney (PhD Candidate, University of Toronto, Political Science) discusses the promise of the “case-comparative” method in specifying the mechanism driving change in South Korean national identity and delineating the contours of North Korean national identity from a defector-centered, rather than state-centered, perspective. Notably, data required to carry out such research compels the systematic surveying of North Korean defectors as representatives of North Korea.

Sheena Chestnut Greitens (Assistant Professor, University of Missouri, Political Science) analyzes the ways in which conceptions of citizenship have shaped resettlement policies for North Korean defectors and refugees, as well as the outcomes of those policies. She traces the ways in which understandings of citizenship shape ideas about political community, national division, welfare provision, and political participation across the newly emergent global North Korean diaspora.

Through a range of disciplinary approaches and methodologies, the panel seeks to illuminate both the centrality and complexity of the politics surrounding North Korean defectors and refugees. We invite anyone who is present at the AAS conference on Sunday to join us for this discussion.


Panel Information
Number: Panel 317
Day/date: Sunday, April 3, 2016
Time: 8:30AM-10:30AM
Location: Room 304, Level 3, Washington State Convention Center

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