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Hough, Jennifer and Bell, Markus (2020) 'North Koreans' Public Narratives and Conditional Inclusion in South Korea.' Critical Asian Studies, 52 (2). pp. 161-181.

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This article draws on the public testimonies of North Koreans living in South Korea (t’albungmin) and analyzes the role that these narratives play in South Korean society as mechanisms of inclusion and exclusion. North and South Korea technically remain at war, with South Korea claiming sovereignty over the entire Korean peninsula. While t’albungmin are eligible for South Korean citizenship, they describe feeling excluded from full social membership. Although some t’albungmin seek anonymity, this paper considers those who gain social status by speaking publicly about their lives and denouncing the North Korean regime. In so doing, they distance themselves from North Korea and align themselves with the “good” discourse of human rights. However, their actions reinforce a logic of exclusion, implying that t’albungmin who prefer anonymity are “sympathizers” of the North and consequently restricting their access to social benefits and resources. This case of conditional inclusion illuminates tensions that arise when a sovereignty claim entails the incorporation of people from an enemy state. It also highlights the carefully delineated boundaries of publicly acceptable behavior within which “suspect” citizens must remain as a condition for positive recognition.

Item Type: Journal Article
Keywords: North Korean defectors/refugees; public figures; exclusion; politics of belonging; performance
SOAS Departments & Centres: Regional Centres and Institutes > Centre of Korean Studies
Departments and Subunits > Department of East Asian Languages & Cultures
Subjects: G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
ISSN: 14672715
Copyright Statement: © 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 11 Mar 2020 13:17
Funders: Economic and Social Research Council, Other

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