Power and Representation: The Case of South Korean Women Workers

Citation:

Mee, K. H. 1998. “Power and Representation: The Case of South Korean Women Workers.” Asian Journal of Women's Studies 4 (3): 61–108.

Author: K. H. Mee

Abstract:

This article focuses on South Korean working class women's political and cultural negotiation in the contexts of the South Korean labor movement of the late 1980s and the ever-evolving international division of labor. Based on an in-depth case study of a labor dispute in a U.S.-owned multinational corporation, it raises issues about how women workers in the international circuit of global capitalism are represented. By looking at how a labor struggle, waged by women workers against a multinational company's (MNC) factory closure, is presented in the realm of media representation and other writings, this article attempts to show how their struggle became a ground of discourse formation, reflecting diverse political interests. This is done by looking at the process of their struggle in the national and transnational space. The workers' own narratives, the media's presentation of their struggle, and the workers' own perception of it, are examined. While this article shows how the Korean women worker's struggle becomes a ground of discourse formation, reflecting varied political interests, it also focuses on how the workers manipulate their own images in a sophisticated way in vying for support from a broader audience. I define this as a specific form of "subaltern" representation and argue that gender images operate as core symbols of labor activities and constitute an important symbolic framework for the international division of labor. Since this case highlights diverse aspects of the conditions of Korean women workers' struggle, cutting across divisions of gender, class, and nation, it offers an arena for understanding the female subject in the process of globalization, which involves a complicated nexus of power and representation.

Topics: Class, Economies, Gender, Women, Globalization, Livelihoods, Multi-national Corporations, Nationalism, Political Participation Regions: Asia, East Asia Countries: South Korea

Year: 1998

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