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Good Care in the Elderly Care Sector of South Korea: Gendered Immigration and Ethnic Boundaries

Mon, August 14, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 517A


This study examines how gendered ethno-nationalism shapes discursive contestations over the definition of good care and the ideal care worker among migrant and native-born workers in paid elder care work. Drawing on the case of South Korea, this study focuses primarily on the differences between two groups of women workers who are marginalized differently but face common issues from doing devalued work: Korean-ethnic migrant women from China and native-born Korean women. Paid elderly care workers have long been informal workers, but a Long Term Care Insurance system has produced state-certified elderly care worker employment for mid-aged local women. However, such attempts to formalize elderly care sector failed to attract migrant care workers in informal sectors, reinforcing inequality between local and migrant elderly care workers.
Drawing upon ethnographic fieldwork, this study compares how workers construct ethno-national boundaries in their claims about good care and the ideal care worker. In the case of native-born Korean workers, ethno-national boundaries are constructed by claiming ethno-national belonging through struggles around national citizenship. This leads them to define certified local workers as ideal workers and to exclude and stigmatize Korean Chinese workers “money seekers.” For Korean Chinese migrant women workers, claims about ethno-national belonging are made through familial and kinship-based affinities and similarities. By doing so, Korean-Chinese migrant workers seek to secure their niche in the blind spots of the market that are not covered by formalized labour forces, where native-born Korean workers predominate. However, this contributes to further ghettoization of the informal elderly care sector.


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