Sample Article review on South Korean Culture

Similarities and Differences between the Mothers and College Students (Question 3)

Despite of the generational gap between the mothers and the college students from Park and Abelmann and Abelmann et al. respectively, their individual situations are affected by gender, family background and social class differences. For the mothers, social class differences shaped their education and consequently, their economic status. Mothers who had a higher social standing received a better education and most importantly, were enrolled in better after-class English programs conducted by native English speakers or even private tutors. This allowed them to achieve their cosmopolitan including traveling overseas, especially to the United States, which is the epitome of cosmopolitan striving. Significantly, proficiency in English was an important evidence of class in the South Korean society.  For the women, learning English is a revered success and a gift they are committed to imparting on their children. They are willing to go a long way towards ensuring that their children learn English not only to achieve their cosmopolitan striving, including going overseas, but also to attain a social stature in the community[1].

For the students, class differences determine their choice of school and their image. Those who are keen to conform to class differences dress in a feminine manner that reflects the social class demands. Their education and the choice of subjects to study at college are influenced by their public status determined by their class. However, those who have adopted the concept of the transformed South Korea are increasingly embracing the self-management concept. They are contemporary students with neoliberal perspectives upon the direction of their lives. They are focused on their own maturation, something that the mothers from Park and Abelmann lacked not only while growing up but also presently. However, they are keen to impart on their children. Unlike these women, the students are focused on a global outlook marked by challenging the social and structural inequalities in the larger South Korean society. They are questioning and opposing the stratification of South Korean educational system. This is something that the women could not do.

Women from Park and Abelmann and college students from Abelmann et al. lived in different generations. This significantly influenced their experiences. The college students represent a new generation of South Korea, which is characterized by the neoliberal lifestyle. The new is embracing globalization ideologies. Therefore, they are adopting the principles of self-determinism where they can define their own styling and identity. They are actively obscuring the foundations of a structuralized society where inequality constricts individual development.

The women, however, represent a generation bogged down by subjectivities and structural inequalities where self-determination was inhibited by both policy and social classes. After-class tuition was banned with no exception for the English language. Even when it was legalized, the highly stratified education system in South Korea meant that they could not receive qualitative education compared to their counterparts from families with higher social standings. This shaped their economic status, but most significantly, ignited a strong desire for cosmopolitan striving as exemplified in the strong passion they had for their children to learn English and to embrace cosmopolitanism[2][3].

However, the generational difference has not diminished the cosmopolitan striving, which overarches the women from Abelmann as well as college students from Abelmann et al. Both the women and college students have a strong inkling for a cosmopolitan life including a possibility to study and to live abroad. They both have a strong desire to embrace the globalization concept. Therefore, they have accepted the symbol of this cosmopolitan striving, which is proficiency in English. Moreover, both realize its class value. They are aware of the structured nature of the South Korea and the consequent inequalities. The women and college students believe that English is an important tool for class mobility[4].

Issues of Gay Marriages in South Korea (Question 4)

The IMF Crisis set South Korea on a path that has significantly radicalized the country’s social, political and economic landscape. The following political liberation led to neoliberal ideologies that changed South Korean social and economic ideologies. Economically, neo-liberalization gave birth to a new class of individuals who were economically liberal due to the adoption of a capitalistic model of economy. Such liberation led to a new breed of individuals who made an emphasis upon individualism, which led to a competition between a family and an individual as the basic unity of the South Korean society. This was further complicated by the emergence of homosexuality as a public identity in the mainstream South Korean society. However, this phenomenon has led to even further neoliberal relationships: contract marriages between gays and lesbians. This new identity with the American-European inclinations was a result of both traditional and contemporary socioeconomic factors[5].

Historically, marriage in the South Korea is an important institution that ensures that the family’s position as the basic unit of the society is preserved. Therefore, a South Korean man or a woman is traditionally expected to maintain this ideology by fulfilling their filial duty as procreators. This procreation pressure did not take into account the sexual orientation of individuals because the Korean Society is characterized by a heterosexual family system that feeds into the heteronormative system. Homosexual contract marriages, therefore, give them an opportunity to fulfill their traditional filial obligations while also living their homosexual lifestyle. Traditionally, heterosexual marriages also serve as means of acquiring social status. Social status is an important part of the South Korean society, therefore, the it forces gays and lesbians to enter into marriages of convenience to ease the pressure. This is evidenced by the personal anecdotes of some of the participants who’s also noted that South Korean corporate sector perpetuates the marriage tradition. In order to get promotions at work, gays and lesbians opt for contract marriages[6].

One of the contemporary socio-economic factors that influenced the emergence of homosexual contract marriages in South Korea is economic independence. The liberalized economic system adopted after the IMF Crisis was capitalistic. It gave a rise to the new wave of unprecedented economic freedom. This, combined with political and social liberalization, produced a new generation of South Koreans who were neoliberal and readily embraced globalization. The new-found independence spurred them to redefine their social boundaries and challenge the societal norms. Their independence allowed them to reconsider what was normal by challenging the heteronormative societal system marked by heterosexual relationships and marriages. However, due to their deep connections with the traditions of the South Korean society they opted for a middle ground: homosexual contract marriages. The new system is unique as it incorporates the homosexual ideologies commonly practiced in Europe and the United States as well as in a traditional South Korean heteronormal marriage. This new approach has also been spurred on by contemporary institutes such as the internet and movies, which have been critical in exporting the culture and facilitating connectivity between interested individuals[7].

In the short film, Dol (First Birthday) by Andrew Ahn, Nick Kim who is the main character considers himself isolated because he feels he has failed to fulfill the expectation of being a “perfect son” to his parents. Nick comes from a Korean-American family with strong connections to traditional Korean practices and beliefs. The Dol is an important tradition that symbolizes the family’s connections with the heteronormal system, which is marked by heterosexual marriages and the nephew celebrating his first birthday (Dol) that is an example of such relationships. He will not fulfill this filial obligation because he is gay and this further isolates him even from his partner[8].

[1] Nancy Abelmann, Son TinPark and Hyunhee Ki. “Chapter Four: On their Own: Becoming Cosmopolitan Subjects Beyond College in South Korea.” In Global Futures in East Asia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.

[2] Nancy Abelmann, Son Tin Park and Hyunhee Ki “Chapter Four: On their Own: Becoming Cosmopolitan Subjects Beyond College in South Korea.” In Global Futures in East Asia. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2013.

[3] Son Tin Park and Nancy Abelmann. “Class and Cosmopolitan Striving: Mothers’ Management of English Education in South Korea.” Anthropological Quarterly, vol. 77, no. 4, (2013) pp. 645-672.

[4] Ibid.

[5]  Tjong Cho. The Wedding Banquet Revisited: “Contract Marriages” Between Korean Gays and Lesbians. Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 2, (2009) pp. 401 – 422.

[6] Tjong Cho. “The Wedding Banquet Revisited: “Contract Marriages” Between Korean Gays and Lesbians”. Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 2, (2009) pp. 401 – 422.

[7] Tjong Cho. “The Wedding Banquet Revisited: “Contract Marriages” Between Korean Gays and Lesbians”. Anthropological Quarterly, Vol. 82, No. 2, (2009) pp. 401 – 422.

[8] Ahn, Andrew. Dol (First Birthday). (2012) Retrieved from: