Ambivalence in 'Reunification': Identity, Homeland and Boundaries in the North, South and Joseon Korean Diaspora(s) in the UK.

Lead Research Organisation: Goldsmiths University of London
Department Name: Media and Communications


For seventy-five years, the Korean peninsula has endured division and estrangement, revealing the debris of colonialism and warfare. To this day, boundaries of nation-state and politics disconnect a previously united peninsula. Yet, in an 'unremarkable' London suburb called New Malden, a co-existence of ethnic Koreans from both sides of the 38th parallel, as well as China (Joseon) is taking place. At first glance, seeing pubs and fish'n'chip shops alongside karaoke bars and bulgogi restaurants paint a picture of a homogenous diaspora and its host county. Yet, when digging deeper, what appears to be one unified Korean community are instead three distinct communities, consisting of ethnic Koreans from South Korea, North Korea and China (Joseon Koreans). The UK is home to the largest South Korean population in Europe, and the largest North Korean population outside the Korean peninsula. With the majority of Korean diaspora(s) settled in New Malden, this case study presents itself as a globally exclusive example of a so called 'reunified' pre-colonial Korea. The aim of this project is to investigate the contested boundaries of identity and homeland within the Korean diaspora(s) in the unique case study of New Malden. The turbulent history of the Korean diaspora(s) problematises the boundaries of citizenship, nation and subsequently identity and home. Using a wide-ethnographic lens, consisting of interviews, participant observation and virtual ethnography, I will explore the formations, tensions and negotiations of the multiple, shifting boundaries of Korean identity. I will also contemplate the role of different media in these processes. This project will explore the following questions:

1. What different identities and notions of homeland are present in the Korean diaspora(s)? How are these developed, maintained and challenged, and how can we explain them?

2. How do different boundaries of identity and homeland intersect, change and shift within the Korean diaspora(s) in London? What are the dynamic social principles underlying these shifting boundaries?

3. What is the role of growing media technologies to form, challenge and shift these different notions of identity and home?

This unique empirical study aims to provide a substantive contribution about an under-researched community, as well as theoretical contributions on diaspora and media more broadly.


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