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“Acculturalism” as an Alternative to Multiculturalism:

“Acculturalism” as an Alternative to Multiculturalism:
Other Titles
다문화주의 정책 대안으로서의 “문화동화정책” (“acculturalism”): 급변하는 대한민국 사례를 중심으로
Reginald J. Lee
Alternative Author(s)
레지날드 리
Kim, Youeun
Issue Date
“Acculturalism” as an Alternative to Multiculturalism: The Case of Rapidly Transforming South Korea Lee, Reginald JangSu Dept. of Korean Studies Graduate School of International Studies Hanyang University South Korea (hitherto Korea) has been experiencing sudden influxes of immigration in recent years. Due to the rapidly growing “foreign” population that by general estimates is over 2 million, the government has been under pressure to effectively resolve a wide array of challenges associated with accommodating the new foreign members of Korean society. These include effective integration, mutual acceptance of the mainstream and minorities communities, equitable educational and employment opportunities, legal protections, and so on. Simultaneously, the nation has been facing serious demographic challenges including its rapidly aging population, low marriage and birth rates, and shrinking populations in the workforce, schools, military, and so on. Many view increased immigration as the key to resolving Korea’s aforementioned demographic challenges and to this end, the government has launched a wide array of programs and policies to promote “multiculturalism”. For instance, in a concerted effort of its various ministries, the government launched its initial comprehensive approach titled The First Basic Plan for Immigration Policy (2008-2012), which was succeeded by The 2nd Basic Plan for Immigration Policy (2013-2017) both of which were designed as explanatory guidelines to achieve its multiculturalism goals. However, there have been concerns and criticisms regarding the efficacy of the government’s overall “assimilation” strategies that have typically focused on “multicultural families” consisting of one (ethnic) Korean parent (usually the father), a non-ethnic Korean or foreign parent (the mother), and their legally residing and naturalized ethnically mixed children. While a vast majority of these so-called international families do consist of the aforementioned family members, there is a growing number of other members of Korean society who do not fit this description and also need official consideration to effectively integrate into Korean society. They include for example, non-ethnic Koreans (ex. ethnically European), ethnically Korean but non-naturalized residents (ex. Korean-American), Korea born and raised but non-naturalized residents (ex. ethnically European children born and living in Korea), long vs. short term, legal vs. illegal, permanent resident vs. naturalized, and so on. Because this large group of “others” are collectively referred to as “foreigners”, there often exists an invisible barrier between the local majority Korean population and the various ethnic minorities of varying backgrounds and statuses. Therefore, it is imperative that proper measures be implemented by the government to achieve a more inclusive so-called “multiculturalism” environment, especially as Korea’s increasing number of “foreign” residents is subtly impacting the country’s social, cultural, economic, and political spheres. Korea is not alone however, in its struggle to implement a proper multiculturalism policy that adequately addresses similar demographic problems encountered in various countries around the world (ex. workforce shortages). For instance, the three common policies in use around the world are the assimilation (i.e. “absorption”), work permit (i.e. differential exclusion), and multiculturalism (i.e. “separate but equal”) approaches, parts of which are incorporated in Korea’s overall multicultural and immigration policies. While each has its own characteristics and positive aspects, they also have their shortcomings, as does Korea’s current multiculturalism efforts. Therefore, this dissertation analyzes the positive and negative aspects of the Korean government’s official approach to integrate “foreigners” into society and suggests “acculturalism” as a more effective multiculturalism approach. To do so, defining characteristics of multiculturalism in previous literature are identified, and subsequently, five key features including shared national identity, common values, multicultural education, protective and representative legislation, and law enforcement are used as reference while examining the limitations of the three main multiculturalism policies already in use (assimilation, work permit, and multiculturalism). Next, Korea’s multiculturalism policy is similarly examined and its shortcomings are discussed, followed by the introduction of “acculturalism” as the alternative to multiculturalism in Korea, based on the recommended promotion of the following five features: a new national “Korean” identity, “indigenous Korean values”, mandatory multicultural education, anti-racial discrimination and affirmative action legislation, and more effective law enforcement. Finally, the potential for successful implementation of “acculturalism” in Korea is discussed based on its unique history and circumstances. If properly implemented in Korea, the acculturalism approach can conceivably serve as a benchmark for successful multiculturalism efforts in other, demographically similar or policy reforming countries around the world. This research is also expected to contribute to ongoing discussions and debates regarding the significance of national identity and shared values in the multiculturalism context.
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