North Korean Migrant Women’s Self-mediated Femininity On Youtube And Its Cultural Capital In South Korea

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


There is an ongoing cross-border migration of North Korean women to South Korea since the devastating famine [1994-1999] that swept North Korea causing countless deaths. Although there is some scholarly attention on North Korean defectors and their engagement with social media, there is little attention on women defectors specifically and the complex national and cultural identities and contexts they navigate. This thesis addresses this gap as it critically examines young North Korean women vloggers on YouTube and their self-representational techniques, which are analysed as practices of ‘micro-celebrity’.

Drawing on feminist theories of neoliberal and postfeminist culture, the thesis sets out to address two key aspects of gendered emotional labour and self-commodification: firstly, it scrutinises the forms and modes of femininity mobilised by North Korean vloggers based on South Korean gender norms. Secondly, it investigates the cultural and political values, histories and contexts that are embodied in these performative femininities. Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of ‘cultural capital’ is applied here to interpret North Korean YouTubers’ femininity as a form of ‘gender capital’ and it is argued that North Korean women’s gender performance is a means of survival.

Taking the audio-visual and linguistic materials as an analytical text collected from the selected four North Korean woman-led YouTube channels, this thesis scrutinizes each vlogger’s ‘gender performance’ through multimodal critical discourse analysis. By presenting case studies of each channel, I show the possibilities and restraints of North Korean vloggers’ gender performance to accumulate useful capital either for monetary earnings or social fame. Specifically, the central features of each case study can be summarized by the unique narrative of each vlogger’s gender performance as follows: “Internet celebrity femininity” (Case study 1); “Filial femininity” (Case study 2); “Cheerful femininity” (Case study 3) and “Hypersexual femininity” (Case study 4).

In the politics of neoliberalism, North Korean migrant women’s self-representation is compelled to construe the pre-fixed meanings of femininity and North Korean-ness in the discursive context of South Korea. North Korean migrant women’s lack of power to speak for their struggles for survival is a major feature of the analysis of this project that contributes essentially to revealing the temporality and performativity of women’s gender performance.
Date of AwardNov 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorTheodore Koulouris (Supervisor), Aristea Fotopoulou (Supervisor) & Louise Fitzgerald (Supervisor)

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