Towards a New Family

In contrast to most societies, Koreans have a preoccupation with family that moves beyond the ordinary. As victims of colonization and war, a crisis of consciousness compelled Koreans foremost to seek safety, security, and happiness for their family. Since the 90s, however, the existing family model has hit a crisis. The young writers of the 21st century are a generation that perceive and document these signs of change.


The family is the most powerful ideological institution everywhere. Yet, the attachment to family that most Koreans have is stronger than in many other societies. One can easily assume that the distinctive progression of modern Korean history could have resulted in a peculiarly strong attachment to family. The constant crisis of consciousness resulting from colonization and war experiences led many heads of families to die and many families to be scattered and feel the sorrow of parting. This made Koreans regard the stable family as the most important criterion of their happiness. Furthermore, although it might be said to be an imagined community, the pride in a homogeneous nation and a common bloodline with five thousand years of history, which Korean people firmly believe, has constituted a pure blood ideology unique to Korea. This ideology directly or indirectly contributed to the expansion of familism. The influence of the filial piety particular to Confucianism culture is also noteworthy. Family has been recognized as a small nation or even a small state in Korea. In short, it might be said that the family in Korean society has constantly kept its position as a medium for teaching community spirit and conventional gender roles.

However, since the 1990s, the traditional family model as an ideological institution in Korean society has hit a crisis. Due to the changed characteristics of capitalism, the traditional family model is now losing its dominance.

The primary reason for this is because of the changes in daily life caused by the extensive prosperity of cultural and IT industries. Korean capitalism after 1990 has made large profits primarily through its cultural industries: popular movies, the Internet, and pop culture icons. During this time in Frederick Jameson’s terms, Korea entered a phase of “late capitalism” or “consumerism.” There is various evidence that Korean cultural industries are flourishing: the number of people using cellular phones and the Internet ranks first in the world; almost onethird of the total population crowds into theaters to see Korean movies; the annual income of certain stars equals that of average corporations; and so forth. This social change necessarily influenced the process of subject formation, creating antisocial individuals who are significant social problems today. They enjoy going to see movies by themselves, communicating with others only through the Internet, and finding refuge in the virtual world of computer games and movies in order to escape mundane daily life. As this narcissistic culture becomes more dominant in Korea, individuals who avoid being a part of a traditional family unit are no longer rare.


1 Waltz for Three Yun I-Hyeong, Moonji Publishing, 2007 416p, ISBN 978-89-320-1809-6
2 Her Use of Tears Chun Woon-young, Changbi Publishers, Inc. 2008, 272p, ISBN 978-89-364-3703-9 03810
3 A Cold Yoon Sunghee, Changbi Publishers, Inc. 2008, 275p, ISBN 978-89-364-3700-8 03810
4 Run, Pop, Run! Kim Ae-ran, Changbi Publishers, Inc., 2008 269p, ISBN 978-89-364-3690-2 03810
5 A Pool of Saliva Kim Ae-ran, Moonji Publishing, 2008 309p, ISBN 978-89-320-1804-0 03810
6 Restless Kang Young-sook, Munhak Dongne Publishing Corp., 2002, 304p ISBN 978-89-8281-467-1 03810
7 Farewell to the Circus Chun Woon-young, Munhak Dongne Publishing Corp., 2005, 280p ISBN 978-89-546-0052-2 03810
8 Festival Everyday Kang Young-sook, Changbi Publishers, Inc. 2004, 236p, ISBN 978-89-364-3677-5 03810


Since the doors officially opened to foreign workers in 1992, the rapid increase of foreigners is also one reason for the changing family model in Korean society. Since this open-door policy, the dependence on immigrant workers in the Korean economy has gradually increased. Immigrant workers in Korea now number over one million, leading to the deconstruction of homogeneous nation and bloodline myths, as well as changing Korean society into a multi-ethnic and multicultural nation. In addition, the decline of rural areas since the 1970s caused by the abnormally fast development of Korean capitalism, made bachelors in rural areas helpless when seeking Korean spouses. This phenomenon has forced them to buy foreign brides in a manner not inconsistent with international human trafficking. According to many sources, about 30percent of current marriages in Korea are international marriages. Also, the entry of Korean-Chinese and North Korean defectors, including increasing numbers of foreign students from South Asia, contribute to this social change. In other words, the Korean family now faces a situation in whi...