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Categories and Subjectivities in Identification of North Koreans in Japan

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This article is about Korean residents in Japan, who identify themselves as overseas nationals of North Korea. Through ethnographical data I shall demonstrate that beyond a seeming opposition between minority identities and majority identity, there are multi-dimensional processes of self-identification employed by individuals who strategically mobilize social resources available. More often than not the legally-defined label or name only partially represents individuals' social life and no "stereotype" could be drawn out of categorized identification such as nationality or citizenship. The article combines historical overview and anthropological search, the former referring to the process of categorization of Korean residents in Japan and the latter exploring diversity within the limitations of categories. By so doing, the article aims to show that what are usually taken to be minority or majority identities are nothing other than ephemeral convention that in reality stands on highly unstable definitions of individuals in society. In usual social scientific discourse ethnic minority is placed in an opposite end to the nation-state system, suggesting the contrast between the inclusive whole against misfitting part. The identity of minorities is something that is not appropriately placed within the identity of the majority-a kind of excess. The minority identity is postulated anomaly within the tolerable limit of "proper" majority identity. The latter is regarded as mainstream, the former, something that goes against the current and hence, potentially disruptive for the stability of the symbolic order of the majority whole. The subjectivities of minority peoples are, therefore, necessarily problematical in terms of maintaining clear boundaries of nation-state system. At worst, it needs to be exterminated by way of elimination or assimilation; at best, it needs to be dealt with as a problem. Beyond this simple opposition, as many ethnographical literature as well as cultural studies texts have shown, identity of minorities are never unified and can exist only in unstable, debatable form within its vaguely-determined boundaries vis-à-vis the majority. By the same token, identity of the so-called majority is never stable or single: the constitution of majority-ness is often as contested as that of minority-ness. As the dissolution of Yugoslavia shows, for example, what had been assumed as a national-state and its identity was easy to be fragmented into that which looks like an endless realignment of groups and individuals, or indeed, minorities, while when we turn to the European Union, we find that the region full of different traditions and cultures is trying to identify itself under one political rubric "Europe." Identities in this light are unstable in the cases of both minority and majority and

Affiliations: 1: Department of Anthropology, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore MD 21218, U.S.A.


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