Sangsook LEE-CHUNG

Dissertation: Ambivalent Globalizers, Vicarious Cosmopolitans: South Korean “Geese-dad” Academics


This dissertation examines the shifting subjectivities of contemporary South Korean professors, the most prominent, symbolic group of South Korean intellectuals, focusing on the experiences of “geese-dad” professors who respond to the challenges of globalization in both private and public realms. I explore how these professors engage in the globalization process both through raising their children abroad and through their university roles as campus globalizers. Through ethnographic field research (2009-2010) on twenty eight Seoul-based geese-dad professors, I identify the transformative (cosmopolitan) qualities of their transnational experiences and argue that their experiences reflect the larger landscape in which South Koreans are creatively responding to the challenge of globalization and unwittingly training as cosmopolitans in the process.

These geese-dad professors are ambivalent about raising their children abroad. In this vein, they often mask their privilege and motivations through the rhetoric of inevitability. They are at once proud of being competent fathers with a pioneering spirit, but also critical of themselves as self-wounded intellectuals whose practices are often seen as individualistic efforts at social reproduction — efforts at odds with the social ideals of critical, respectable, and nationalist intellectuals. I demonstrate, however, that this seemingly apparent contradiction itself is also unstable. Their experiences in fact challenge longstanding South Korean binaries of private/public, individualistic/collectivistic, national/global — binaries that are increasingly blurred today.

Despite this ambivalence, these fathers in fact vicariously nurture their own desires for cosmopolitan and autonomous liberal subjectivity through their children’s study abroad experiences. Moreover, many of these professors undergo a paradigm shift in their thinking about the nation and the global as they negotiate the process of raising their children abroad. Further, these transformations also affect and are affected by the roles that they play as agents in the imperative to globalize their universities. They emerge as both cynical consumers of and critical players in globalization projects in South Korean higher education. In the midst, they also develop new ideas about the role of professors and their responsibility as intellectuals in South Korean society. Still, they are caught between the nostalgia for the yesteryear professor who enjoyed the aura of respectable, privileged intellectuals and the new ideals of autonomous professionals who are unrestrained by traditionally imagined collective identity.
This study thus not only analyzes the veritable transformation of the ethos of the professoriate in South Korea’s aggressively globalizing society and higher education sector, but also offers a rich window on larger cultural and social struggles and paradigm shifts in South Korea. Further, my study offers a broader window on intellectuals’ struggles in a transforming East Asia and developing countries; even more broadly it offers a portrait of how South Koreans today carve out lives in the face of globalization.