Bordering Families: Kinship Migration and Immigration Bureaucracy in South Korea

Date/Time: Friday, March 2, 2018 | 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM
Speaker: Sohoon Lee (Post-doctoral Fellow, Department of Sociology, University of Toronto)
Chair: Cynthia Cranford (Associate Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto)
Location: Room 208N – North House, Munk School of Global Affairs, 1 Devonshire Place


About 45% of foreign residents in South Korea are women, and the majority of them come to South Korea on kinship-related legal status. This talk investigates gendered bordering practices in “temporary ethno-kinship visa programs” which requires migrants to provide proof and justification to immigration authorities when extending their visas. Using extensive ethnographic data, this talk will demonstrate how migrants experience and contest such bordering practices in courts, immigration offices and other government agencies, as well as in their daily lives. Through an in-depth focus on marriage migrants from Vietnam and co-ethnic migrants from China, this talk will discuss how two groups of migrant women make contested kinship claims to the South Korean state:. Using Balibar’s notion of “being a border” and Zelizer’s ideas about the intimate economy, this talk conceptualises the border as a dynamic site where notions of membership, family and speculative capital are contested. Focusing on the technical aspect of defining and adjudicating family through immigration measures will allow us to see the performative account of “governmentality” and procedural contradictions in the grey areas of the law. It will also enable us to analyse state actions and migrant responses to them organically as each traverses justifications of family, immigration and economy.

Sohoon Lee is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Department of Sociology, University of Toronto. Her postdoctoral research project explores the ‘informal’ politics between the migrant care workers and their employers in the liminal space of immigration, social protection and labour. Building upon her PhD thesis, she is currently working on a book manuscript on the temporality of ethno-kinship migration in South Korea through a combination of ethnography, in-depth personal and group interviews and analysis of laws and policies. Her research interests also include multicultural (damunhwa) policies in South Korea, return migrants and bottom-up development in Indonesia, and NGO-Trade Union relationship in migrant movement in South Korea. Prior to her PhD studies, she worked at Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) in areas of ASEAN human rights mechanisms, indigenous peoples in Southeast Asia, and documentation of human rights violation. She has also undertaken consultancies with UN Women, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), and other NGOs to write on topics of migrant domestic workers, intersectionality and discrimination and labour rights protections in South Korea.