"We have to transform ourselves first"

The ethics of liberal developmentalism and multicultural governance in South Korea

in Focaal
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  • 1 Yonsei University euyryung@gmail.com
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Multiculturalism has often been articulated through imperial and civilizational discourses that identify tolerance with the liberal West and intolerance with nonliberal societies and cultures. This article explores how the focus of the civilizational gaze is turned on the allegedly “not yet tolerant self“ in the neoliberal developmental state of South Korea. The mode of the liberal government that recently emerged in South Korea has been shaped not in the self-celebratory rhetoric of “what we are“ but in the self-critical, developmentalist rhetoric of “what we lack.“ Drawing from my fieldwork among local civic actors working in the field of migration, I discuss how the civic discourse of damunhwa, or “multiculturalism,“ that emerged in opposition to the “governmental objectification“ of migrant groups redirects the focus onto the ethical improvement of the general population, relying on another form of reified otherness that captures migrants and their presence in the country as “opportunities“ for South Korea's moral ventures.


Journal of Global and Historical Anthropology


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