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A Feminist Exploration of Military Conscription: The Gendering of the Connections Between Nationalism, Militarism and Citizenship in South Korea

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Despite its political, cultural and personal saliences, military conscription in South Korea has attracted surprisingly little social research. Mainly, such research has been left to military institutions. Also,few South Korean feminist analysts, until recently, have tried to fill this notable gap in political analysis. I have become convinced that we need a deeper, more sustained and explicitly feminist exploration of the multi-layered workings of male compulsory military service. Without understanding the subtle gendering of conscription, we will not be able to make adequate sense of the persistence of a culture of militarism today, even after the end of the cold war, even after a pro-democracy movement pushed the military out of power. Therefore, I seek to demonstrate how male military conscription lies at the core of what most members of society believe it means to be an 'authentic' South Korean in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. I show that compulsory male military service has played a crucial role in constructing citizenship, nationhood, masculinity, femininity, motherhood and fatherhood and in creating the essential 'glue' that binds each of these six potent ideas to the concept of the nation-state in contemporary South Korea. In addition, I reveal how employing a feminist analysis to explore the meaning and consequence of military conscription in present day South Korean society can have potential value for those researchers investigating the dynamics of political culture in other societies, past and present.
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Keywords: CONSCRIPTION; MILITARISM; SOUTH KOREA; WOMEN AND POLITICS

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Korea Institute at Harvard University, USA

Publication date: April 1, 2001

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