THE COST OF RIGHTS: MIGRANT WOMEN, FEMINIST ADVOCACY, AND GENDERED MORALITY IN SOUTH KOREA
Abstract. Theories of citizenship have largely focused on the provision of rights by law and policy measures, as if rights are universally beneficial and cost-free and the invitations of rights will be accepted once offered. I challenge this assumption and highlight the need to empirically address how people negotiate with the benefit and cost of claiming rights. Based on ethnographic research in South Korea, I delve into the everyday lives of migrant women in two feminized sectors of migration—cross-border marriage and sexual commerce—to situate the act of claiming rights in relation to the gendered pursuit of moral respect. I show that feminist groups in South Korea relied on the discourse of victimization and trafficking in pressuring the South Korean state to account for the human rights of migrant wives and migrant hostesses, while reinforcing the moral hierarchy that renders problematic migrant women’s work and intimate relationships. I argue that the distinctive material and moral costs that accompanied human rights-based provisions compelled migrant wives and hostesses to pursue divergent paths in seeking alternate bases to citizenship that would support their inclusion as moral equals.
Bio: Hae Yeon Choo is an Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Her research centers on the intersections of gender, sexuality, transnational migration, and citizenship for understanding complex inequalities. Her most recent project was a comparative ethnographic analysis of gendered migrant incorporation in South Korea in the case of migrant factory workers, migrant wives, and American military camptown club hostesses. Her current project examines the cartographies of gender and global stratification that emerge from the encounter between women refugee claimants and adjudicators at the site of refugee case law in Canada.