The Gender Politics of Nation Building and
Citizenship in South Korea
The point is that countries which come late to the process of develop-
ment possess social structures which must be understood in their own
terms rather than merely as ‘‘transitional stages’’ to the type of indus-
trialized society exemplified by the English or, better still, the Ameri-
can case.
—Reinhard Bendix, Nation Building and Citizenship
This book is a postcolonial feminist study of the politics of
membership in the modern Korean nation. In this study, I adopt the notion
of modernity to engage in a critical reflection on the dramatic social transfor-
mation in South Korea for the past three decades or so. Drawing on insights
from cultural studies, I conceive of modernity as a ‘‘keyword,’’ in Raymond
Williams’s sense,1 used by different social groups to describe a desirable (or
undesirable) direction of contemporary social change. While modernity can
be defined specificallyas a set of normativevalues and social conditions drawn
from the theoretical and empirical discourse of modernity in theWest, I prefer
to approach it as an arrayof global and local claims, commitments, and knowl-
edge whose specific meanings are determined in the context of asymmetrical
power relations among (national) societies and (intranational) social groups.
This cultural approach to modernity allows us to open space for the study of
social change in ‘‘other’’ societies in their own terms. The cultural politics of
modernitydo not reduce modernity to merelyan empty sign, as semiotics may
suggest, that can be filled with any arbitrary permutations of meanings. His-
tories of colonialism and neocolonialism, as well as current power inequalities
among nation-states and among internal social groups in a given (national)
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