Small Navigation Menu

Primary Menu

State of Exception: An Agambenian perspective on the detention of North Koreans in South Korea

Citation: Southcott, Darren State of Exception: An Agambenian perspective on the detention of North Koreans in South Korea. [Discussion or working paper] (Submitted)


Creative Commons: Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0

This research critically explores the role of the Hanawon reintegration facility in the securitisation of migration for citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) settling in the Republic of Korea (ROK). The securitisation of migration is a field much influenced by the work of critical sociologist Giorgio Agamben in his critique of sovereign power and his framework is here applied to DPRK settler detention in ROK. This research seeks to understand the Hanawon detention facility from an Agambenian perspective and critically explores whether concepts such as state of exception and bare life deepen our understanding of the system of mandatory detention. The research follows a mixed methods approach and triangulates data recovered from primary and secondary literature, while qualitative semi-structured interviews with Hanawon graduates complement the findings. The triangulated data show that there is a high degree of biopolitical control within the institute which pathologises a socially constructed DPRK pseudo-ethnicity, which is then recodified through a period of ritualistic banishment from the socio-political realm. It is further argued that DPRK settlers are analogous to Agamben’s accursed homo sacer, embodying both the sacredness of a unified Korea, but also the subversive remnants of DPRK sovereignty. Despite there being historical precedents for sequestration of foreign communities within Korea, it is argued the Hanawon reflects the wider securitisation of migration debate, albeit in a uniquely Korean context. In conclusion, it is suggested that the system of support as currently practiced risks violating ROK human rights obligations and the situation should be closely monitored into the future so as to ensure DPRK settlers do not enjoy a diluted liberty when settling in ROK.

Creators: Southcott, Darren and
Subjects: Human Rights & Development Studies
Keywords: Securitisation of migration, North Korean refugees, state of exception, homo sacer, citizenship, migrant detention centres.
Divisions: Human Rights Consortium
Collections: Refugee Law Initiative


View details