• Committee: M. Hawkesworth, L. Schein, H. Davidson, M. Gossy
  • Dissertation: Politics of Cultural Proximity: Transnational Marriage and Family Making Among Vietnamese Women and Women and South Korean Men in the 21st Century


Eunsung Lee received a B.A. in English Literature from Dongguk Univeristy, South Korea, and M.A. degrees in English Literature from University of Northern Iowa and Women’s Studies from San Diego State University.


This dissertation examines how the idea of cultural proximity is constructed in commercialized marriage and transnational family making among Vietnamese women and South Korean men. Based on ethnographic work in Vietnam and South Korea, my dissertation theorizes cultural proximity in the context of regionalization among Asia-Pacific countries, ethnic identity formation, and social stratification in South Korea. The dissertation argues that the construction of cultural proximity involves disciplinary politics. I explore how the politics of cultural proximity is embedded in Korea’s multicultural policies that aim to socially and culturally assimilate migrant women and children of transnational families. In addition, I analyze the everyday politics of cultural proximity articulated by Koreans who are involved in brokered marriages, cultural assimilation programs, and transnational family making. This study highlights the new transnational formations of social, ideological, economic, and interpersonal relations in South Korea where Vietnamese wives negotiate patriarchal gender roles, ethnic identity, and social stratification. The study extends the theory of cultural proximity to assess the multifaceted regionalization processes in the Asia-Pacific region. It contributes to the study of race and ethnicity in the region by examining immigration, multicultural policies, and cultural assimilation programs in South Korea that are based on the hierarchy of Korean and non-Korean identities. In addition, the study sheds new light on masculinity studies by arguing for more nuanced understandings of Korean men who are involved in unconventional marriage and family making. My analysis of Vietnamese women’s rural-to-rural migration attests to the on-going gender scholarship that critiques women’s upward mobility via transnational marriage. My study confirms that Vietnamese women struggle to find ways to empower themselves in the host country. Lastly, my study of the role of international matchmaking agencies in Vietnamese women’s settlement processes suggests that both the South Korean and Vietnamese government ought to consider the promulgation and enforcement of laws related to matchmaking services that better protect the Vietnamese women.