Skip to main content Accessibility help

Nancy Abelmann: Anthropologist, Citizen, and Thinker in/on the Global University

  • Jiyeon Kang (a1)


This article discusses Nancy Abelmann's scholarship on the university and includes a new study of the South Korean media discourse on Chinese international students—a work she planned but could not undertake. Abelmann studied the university, viewing it as a window to society's particular desires and anxieties regarding the future. Her research on South Korean university students reveals their personal fervor and struggle to stay afloat amidst the country's rapid modernization and globalization. Her later work on the American university considers the struggles of Asian American and Asian international students, illuminating the new realities of a global educational market and exploring new ethics of sharing the same university. The study in the second part of this article demonstrates how South Korean universities and public discourse have attempted to “optimize” the increasing numbers of Chinese international students as financial and symbolic capital. The shift between 2001 and 2016 from maximizing to distancing shows that Korean universities were straddling a line between the desire to become global institutions and the realization that they are a second-choice destination in the global higher-education market.



Hide All

1 Nancy Abelmann, “EUI Story,” EUI: Ethnography of the University Initiative, (accessed September 27, 2017).

2 Nancy Abelmann and Jiyeon Kang, New Global Civilities: The Mobile Undergraduate in the U.S., China, and South Korea (unpublished manuscript), last modified September 23, 2015.

3 Abelmann, Nancy, The Melodrama of Mobility: Women, Talk, and Class in Contemporary South Korea (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2003), 100.

4 Abelmann, Nancy, Echoes of the Past, Epics of Dissent: A South Korean Social Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996).

5 Abelmann, The Melodrama of Mobility, op. cit. note 3, 45.

6 Ibid., 6.

7 “Miguk Taehak Nae Han'gugin Yuhaksaeng 11nyŏn Mane Churŏtta” [The Number of Korean Study Abroad Students in U.S. Universities Decreased for the First Time in 11 Years], Jung-Ang Ilbo (U.S. Edition), November 15, 2010, (accessed August 25, 2018).

8 So Park, Jin and Abelmann, Nancy, “Class and Cosmopolitan Striving: Mothers’ Management of English Education in South Korea,” Anthropological Quarterly 77, no. 4 (2004): 666. See also Nancy Abelmann, So Park, Jin, and Kim, Hyunhee, “College Rank and Neo-Liberal Subjectivity in South Korea: The Burden of Self-Development,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 10, no. 2 (2009): 229–47.

9 Kang, Jiyeon and Abelmann, Nancy, “The Domestication of South Korean Pre-College Study Abroad in the First Decade of the Millennium,” Journal of Korean Studies 16, no. 1 (2011): 90.

10 Abelmann, Nancy, Choi, Jung-Ah, and Park, So Jin, eds., No Alternative? Experiments in South Korean Education (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).

11 Abelmann, Nancy and Kang, Jiyeon, “Memoir/Manuals of South Korean Pre-College Study Abroad: Defending Mothers and Humanizing Children,” Global Networks 14, no. 1 (2014): 122; Park and Abelmann, “Class and Cosmopolitan Striving,” op. cit. note 8.

12 Abelmann, The Melodrama of Mobility, op. cit. note 3, 293.

13 Laurel Kendall, endorsement on the back cover of Abelmann, The Melodrama of Mobility, op. cit. note 3.

14 Abelmann, Nancy, The Intimate University: Korean American Students and the Problems of Segregation (Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 2009), 169.

15 Abelmann, Nancy and Kang, Jiyeon, “A Fraught Exchange? U.S. Media on Chinese International Undergraduates and the American University,” Journal of Studies in International Education 18, no. 4 (2014): 384.

16 Fong, Vanessa L., Paradise Redefined: Transnational Chinese Students and the Quest for Flexible Citizenship in the Developed World (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 2011); Andrea Louie and Desiree Baolian Qin, “‘Car Talk’: Automobility and Chinese International Students in Michigan,” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power (2018), doi:10.1080/1070289X.2017.1380941.

17 Ono, Kent A. and Sloop, John M., “The Critique of Vernacular Discourse,” Communication Monographs 62, no. 1 (1995): 1946.

18 Abelmann and Kang, New Global Civilities, op. cit. note 2.

19 The American University Meets the Pacific Century Project, (accessed August 25, 2018).

20 Abelmann and Kang, “A Fraught Exchange,” op. cit. note 15.

21 Okpyo Moon, review of The Intimate University, by Abelmann, Nancy, Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 17, no. 2 (2011): 407–8.

22 Pyong Gap Min, review of The Intimate University, by Abelmann, Nancy, Contemporary Sociology 39, no. 6 (2010): 678–79.

23 Habermas, Jürgen, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Burger, Thomas and Lawrence, Frederick G. (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989); Anderson, Benedict, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (London: Verso, 1983).

24 Byun, Kiyong and Kim, Minjung, “Shifting Patterns of the Government's Policies for the Internationalization of Korean Higher Education,” Journal of Studies in International Education 15, no. 5 (2011): 467–86.

25 Park, Sojin, “Han'guk Taehakkwa Chunggugin Yuhaksaengŭi Tongsangimong: Sŏulgwa Chibang Sojae Sarip Taehak Pigyo” [Globalization of Korean Universities and Chinese Students: Comparative Cases of Two Universities], Han'guk Munhwaillyuhak 46, no. 1 (2013): 191234.

26 A few top institutions, such as Yonsei, Korea, Ewha, POSTECH, and Sung Kyun Kwan, have significant endowments. However, other private universities rely heavily on tuition. Kim, Terri, “Higher Education Reforms in South Korea: Public-Private Problems in Internationalising and Incorporating Universities,” Policy Futures in Education 6, no. 5 (2008): 558–68; Dong-hoon Lee, “Chibangdae Mŏkyŏsallinŭn Oegugin Yuhaksaengdŭl” [International Students as Lifelines for Regional Universities], Chosun Ilbo, January 4, 2009, (accessed August 25, 2018).

27 “Sasŏl: Pushil Taehak T'oech'ulshik'il ’Ch'ulgu Mandŭrŏjwŏya” [Editorial: We Need an Exit Strategy for Unsustainable Universities], Chosun Ilbo, August 25, 2010.

28 Lee, “Chibangdae Mŏkyŏsallinŭn,” op. cit. note 26.

29 Byun and Kim, “Shifting Patterns,” op. cit. note 24, 472.

30 Do-hyuk Yim, “Oeguk Haksaengŭl Yuch'ihara! Kukchehwa Param Kŏse” [Recruit International Students! A Wave of Internationalization Is Coming], Chosun Ilbo, December 13, 2001.

31 Won-seok Choi, “Chosŏndae, Oegugin Haksaeng Yuch'i Nasŏ” [Chosŏndae Is Recruiting International Students], Chosun Ilbo, June 16, 2002.

32 Won-seok Choi, “‘Irŏdaga Mundadŭlla’ Wigi Kamdonŭn Chibangdae” [Impending Crisis for Regional Universities, “We Might Have to Close the University”], Chosun Ilbo, June 16, 2002.

33 Do-hyuk Yim, “Asia Yuhaksaengŭl Chabara!” [Seize Asian Students!], Chosun Ilbo, February 12, 2004.

34 Ji-eun Shin, “Taehakka Oegugin Haksaeng P'ungnyŏn” [University Sees Fruitful Years of International Students], Chosun Ilbo, September 22, 2004.

35 Kich'ol Kim, “Yuhaksaeng Mosigi” [Cater to International Students], Chosun Ilbo, September 14, 2006.

36 “Sasŏl: Segye Sujun Taehak Mandŭnŭn Kŏsŭro Kyoyukkaehyŏk Shijakŭl” [Editorial: Education Reform Must Begin with Establishing World-Class Universities], Chosun Ilbo, November 9, 2009.

37 Soon-ch'an Park, “‘Chungguk Sujae Ppobara’ Sŏultaeŭi P'agyŏk” [“Bring in Chinese Elite!” Seoul National University's Strong Move], Chosun Ilbo, December 14, 2009.

38 Abelmann, Nancy, Chung, Gayoung, Ham, Sejung, Kang, Jiyeon, and Lee, Q-Ho, “Makeshift Multiculturalism: The Transformation of Elementary School Teacher Training,” in Multiethnic Korea? Multiculturalism, Migration, and Peoplehood Diversity in Contemporary South Korea, ed. Lie, John (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014), 96.

39 Young-ki Choi, “Oeguk Haksaeng ‘Songnyŏnŭi Pam’ Ittara” [A Series of End-of-Year Events for Foreign Students], Chosun Ilbo, December 21, 2003.

40 Shin-young Yi, “Taehakka Chŏnt'ongmunhwa Tongarimada Oegugin Pukchŏk” [Foreigners Are Flocking to Student Clubs for Traditional Korean Culture], Chosun Ilbo, March 24, 2009.

41 Su-ho Choi, “Myŏngjŏl Punwigie Chŏnggyŏpko Sŏnhaengŭro Utko” [Celebrating the Holiday and Enjoying Volunteer Work], Chosun Ilbo, September 15, 2010.

42 Hui-won Byun, “Han'guk on Yuhaksaengdŭl, Ŏriniwa Ch'in'gu Toeda” [International Students Make Friends with Korean Children], Chosun Ilbo, April 5, 2010.

43 Special Report Team, “Oegugin Yuhaksaeng 6manmyŏng Shidae: Kukche Sahoeesŏ Han'guk Taebyŏnhal Ch'inhanp'adŭl” [An Era of Sixty Thousand International Students: Future Advocates of Korea in the World], Chosun Ilbo, October 24, 2008.

44 Kil-sung Choi and Jung-hwan Won, “Chunggugindŭl Chiptan P'ongnyŏge Mŏngdŭrŏbŏrin Sŏul” [Seoul Was Bruised by Chinese Mass Violence], Chosun Ilbo, April 29, 2008.

45 George Gao, “In China, 1980 Marked a Generational Turning Point,” Pew Research Center, November 12, 2015, (accessed August 25, 2018).

46 Kang-mun Yu, “Paringhŏu Minjokchuŭien Pansŏngi Ŏpta” [Post-80s Nationalism Lacks Reflection], Hankyoreh, May 4, 2008.

47 Myung-ho Kim, “Paringhŏurŭl Araya Chunggugi Poinda” [We Have to Understand the 80s-Generation to Understand China], Chosun Ilbo, May 6, 2008.

48 Dong-myung Shin and Hyung-woong No, “Chungguk Yŏngsagwan Yuhaksaeng Tongwŏn Tŭrŏna” [Chinese Embassy Was Found to Mobilize Students for Protests], Chosun Ilbo, May 6, 2008.

49 Dong-hwi Yi and Kyung-pil Kim, “K'aemp’ŏsŭ Anen Chunggugŏ Chŏnyong Kisuksa, K'aemp’ŏsŭ Ap’ŭn Mini Ch'ainat'aun” [Chinese-Only Dorms on Campus and Mini-Chinatown off Campus], Chosun Ilbo, October 15, 2014.

50 Jung-mi Nam, Lo-ra Oh, and Hyun-jung Kong, “Chayangdong Yangkkoch'i Kŏrien Sohwangje Pukchŏkt't Yŏnnamdongŭn Chunggukp'ung Karosugil” [Chayangdong Chinatown Is Bustling with ‘Little Princes,’ Yŏnnamdong Is for Young and Fashionable Chinese], Chosun Ilbo, September 17, 2015.

51 In-jun Choi, “Chunggugin Haksaeng, 4nyŏn Chinado Han'gungmal Chal Mot'ae, 50% Chungdo T'allak” [Chinese Students Are Not Fluent in Korean Even after Four Years, and 50% Drop Out], Chosun Ilbo, April 4, 2011.

52 Dong-ch'ul Kang, “K'ajinoe Ppajin Chosŏnjok T'aejadangŭi Ch'urak” [The Fall of a Chinese Princeling], Chosun Ilbo, February 1, 2012.

53 Sang-ki Park, “Chung Yuhaksaengdŭl Taenok'o Pulbŏp Tonbŏrit't Isaŏpch'e Unyŏnghamyŏ Sajangnim Saenghwal” [Chinese Students Are Blatantly into Illegal Businesses, Living the Life of a CEO], Chosun Ilbo, January 9, 2014.

54 Jae-hun Ch'oi, “Chŏnmundaega Oegugin Yuhaksaeng Pulbŏpch'wiŏp Alsŏn” [Two-Year College Found to Broker International Students into Illegal Work], Chosun Ilbo, May 24, 2007.

55 “Sasŏl: Pushil Taehak T'oech'ulshik'il,” op. cit. note 27.

56 “Sasŏl: Chunggugin Yuhaksaeng Pada Yŏnmyŏnghanŭn Pushil Taehaktŭl” [Editorial: Unsustainable Universities Are Getting by with Chinese Students], Chosun Ilbo, April 4, 2011.

57 Seung-hyuk Park, Lo-ra Oh, and Ji-yeon Kim, “‘Tonman Naemyŏn Ip'ak’ Han'gugŏ Mollado Onŭn Chung Yuhaksaengdŭl” [Automatic Admissions with Tuition, Chinese Students Are Coming Without Speaking Any Korean], Chosun Ilbo, October 4, 2016.

58 Abelmann, The Intimate University, op. cit. note 14, 158.

59 Abelmann and Kang, “A Fraught Exchange,” op. cit. note 15, 393.

60 Abelmann, The Intimate University, op. cit. note 14, 167.



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed