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∙ Current position: Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher, Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki
∙ Ph.D. dissertation Neighborhood Shopkeepers in Contemporary South Korea: Household, Work, and Locality available online (E-Thesis publications a the University of Helsinki). For printed copies, please contact me by e-mail.
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Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Road manager and shop mothers

The piece of the "road-managing" of their school-age children by Korean mothers in Korea Herald, already couple of weeks old, is interesting not that it'd reveal an unknown phenomenon but as a news that someone is making a detailed study of the topic. It is also a good remainder to think about the situation of the mothers in small businesses that I've talked to along the way in relation to their peers with better family resources.
In a study of the changing role of motherhood in South Korea, Park So-jin, a Ph.D. candidate under the guidance of Nancy Abelmann in the Department of Anthropology, examined a sample of 40 middle- and working-class mothers in Seoul. Her results portray a competitive motherhood so driven that it is easy to understand why the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child announced in 2003 that the zealous educational atmosphere in South Korea violates children’s rights to play.
The road-manager mother is a fairly recent phenomenon in South Korea.
"Mothers are having to deal with a different atmosphere than when they grew up," Park said. During the military rule of General Chun Doo-hwan in the 1980s, private after-school programs were banned with the goal of developing a national equalized educational program, committed to developing world citizens. "Still, some wealthy South Koreans were widely suspected of secretly hiring private tutors," Park said.
Following the democratic movement in 1987 and the educational reforms in the 1990s, drastic changes were made to deregulate the educational system and remove the bans on private tutoring programs. "These changes were solidified in 2000, when the bans were ruled as unconstitutional," Park explained. Since then, the private after-school market has grown exponentially.
Due to the time investment required to be a successful manager mother, many women find that they are pulled between motherhood and the need to work part time to pay for the programs. South Korean families spend, "about $2,000 a year on after-school programs on the low end," Park said. But she contends that the expense is underestimated in surveys because many families are unwilling to admit how much of their income goes toward extra classes.
"Because of the diversification of the educational market and recent reforms, the manager mother has emerged as an indispensable figure," Park said.
It's not just one or two shopkeeping women who'd expressed their will to stay at home, or told of their plan to stay at home when opening a new business elsewhere, but more often than not it just doesn't go that way.
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