The Cultural Politics of Affective Bureaucracy in Service Delivery to North Korean Refugees in South Korea


Seo Yeon Park

PhD defended at: 

University of South Carolina, USA



This study explores the affective dimensions and intersecting politics of service operations for North Koreans, focusing on semi-government institutions, Hana Centers in two different regions of South Korea. It probes into how bureaucratic service institutions for North Koreans operate on the ground using affect-laden languages and practices as they identify themselves as caring agencies. It argues that the institutions' promotion of values such as political neutrality, practicality and competitiveness often leads to mistrust and anxiety among settlers and service providers, while such attempt erases historicity and existing politics of North Korean matter in South Korea. Latent memories and discourses of Cold War legacies and imagined ethnic homogeneity emerge from the ruptures of bureaucratic procedures and neoliberal organization of the agencies. Through ethnographic research, this study highlights fragmented and performative aspects of service interactions between the South Korean service providers and the North Korean service recipients. It also draws attention to the desirable figures of North Korean clientele subjectivity, which are unevenly presented in each Center.