The Politics of Representation

Representation of marriage migrants by different institutions in South Korea

Sep 2018 – ongoing

Over the last two decades, cross-border marriages between South Korean men and migrant women, largely from developing countries in Asia, have dramatically increased. The cross-border marriage trend in South Korea is that such marriage is institutionalised and systematised.

There are several institutions in South Korea that are closely associated with cross-border marriages: 1) international marriage brokerage agencies, 2) governmental support centres, and 3) NGOs. These institutions have played prominent roles in maintaining South Korea’s cross-border marriage system by providing a wide range of services, interacting with and challenging each other.

In these processes, the practices of institutions tend to be problematic, specifically with respect to their representation of marriage migrants. These institutions tend to re-present, as well as represent, the foreign women. Racialised and gendered representations are readily apparent in the sector in general, and in the marriage agencies’ representational practices in particular. Migrant women are homogenised and their individuality obliterated in the representational practices of these multicultural centres and NGOs which ignore their uniqueness and their differences. These practices perpetuate nationalistic discourses and reinforce certain hegemonic ideologies such as patriarchy.

This proposed research, therefore, aims to explore how various institutions represent marriage migrants in both senses of the term representation – a) depicting and b) speaking for, by focusing on differences between depicting and speaking for.

The research also looks at how these representations relate to the interests of the institutions concerned. In addition, it studies the ways in which hegemonic ideology is continuously reproduced, legitimised, and normalised; at the same time, how hegemonic ideology is contested and challenged through institutional practices will also be critically examined.

The methodology adopted in this study is ethnographic research, supplemented by in-depth interviews and discourse analysis, mainly of documents (including visual materials). Accordingly, this study involves working with representatives from three different types of institution in South Korea – the multicultural centres, marriage brokerage agencies, and NGOs.


Minjae Shin is a PhD candidate in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies and the Bristol Doctoral College at the University of Bristol.

This project is associated with the MMB Challenge on Representation, belonging, futures