How Does Diaspora Mobilization Become a Causal Feature of Structural Change?

Published date01 December 2015
Date01 December 2015
Subject MatterArticles
AIA 2.3.indb Article
How Does Diaspora
Journal of Asian Security
and International Affairs
Mobilization Become
2(3) 266–290
2015 SAGE Publications India
a Causal Feature of
Private Limited
SAGE Publications
Structural Change?
DOI: 10.1177/2347797015601915
MyungJa Kim1
National integration became a major priority for the Japanese elite’s nation-building
policy after World War II. The ambiguous identification of postcolonial Koreans
in Japan (the Zainichi Koreans), however, shows that the policy of integration
has not developed in a linear or coherent form since those post-war years. This
paper examines why long-term migrants—fourth or even fifth generations in some
cases—have not fully integrated into host country, and asks how a particular ethnic
group becomes engaged in mobilizing across a transnational space until it becomes
a diaspora group that is deeply involved in political struggles and international
relations. This paper uses the example of the Zainichi diaspora to identify and
explore such a transnational space—a space that also provides leverage that can
be exploited by individuals or collective actors who make up the elites of both
the host state and the homeland. By focusing on the changing roles of the Korean
Zainichi diaspora in the light of shifting policies that reflect Japan’s external security
environment, the article argues how host state policies allow an entity such as the
Zainichi diaspora to transform itself into an agent capable of structural change.
Diaspora mobilization, alliance, transnationalism, exclusionary policy, structural change
National integration policies of host states towards a non-assimilated population
will often generate complicated results. This can be seen when considering one
specific empirical puzzle—the ambiguous identification of the postcolonial
1 Graduate Teaching Assistant, Northeast Asian Politics, School of Oriental and African Studies,
University of London.
Corresponding author:
MyungJa Kim, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Thornhaugh Street,
Russell Square, London WC1H 0XG, U.K.

Kim 267
Korean diaspora in Japan (the Zainichi Koreans), who possess legal claims to
their Korean homeland but are culturally Japanese. The Zainichi are of particular
interest because they represent the only Korean migrant group that has not been
granted citizenship by host states, in contrast to ethnic Koreans in China and
Russia as well as Korean Americans. The Japanese expected the group to return
to Korea en masse at the end of World War II, but Northeast Asia’s complicated
geopolitical environment meant that the Zainichi were in fact unable to return,
and now remain in Japan—still existing in a state of comparative limbo, living
outside the protection of Japanese citizenship or Korean law. Although most of
the Zainichi came originally from southern Korea, and retain their Korean nation-
ality, they speak Japanese rather than Korean; their appearance reflects Japanese
culture and fashion rather than Korean and they use Japanese names; in other
words, they are highly acculturated to Japanese society (Chung, 2010). There are
still approximately 400,000 Zainichi in Japan who maintain their Korean nation-
ality but have no intention of repatriating to Korea.1
Existing literature on the Zainichi focuses on their status as a minority within
Japan’s domestic political environment, and issues of citizenship only consider
the domestic context of Japan (Chapman, 2008; Chung, 2010; Fukuoka, 1993;
Kashiwazaki, 2000; Ryang, 1997). The article differentiates Zainichi from other
Korean or host state minorities in terms of recognition to the homeland either
physically or psychologically, as a territorial entity—having imagined as a
locus of emotional identification. By taking this approach, the trajectory of
Zainichi Korean history can be analyzed from a very different international
perspective, and this article will justify its importance and relevance as there is
little existing literature in the field of international relations that explores the
role of the Zainichi.
Recently, growing numbers of US and Japanese policy makers have begun to
focus on the ‘super-sizing’ of North Korea in terms of its continuing military
threat (Hughes, 2009, p. 291). But the transnational space in which the Zainichi
diaspora functions has been ignored for a long time, coming to a head only when
North Korea launched a three-staged Taepodong ballistic missile directly over
Japanese airspace on 31 August 1998, which sent international shockwaves rever-
berating across the world, with Japan feeling particularly threatened. New
academic research has started to uncover the importance of transnationalism in
any threat to national security and regional peace, in Japan’s case by focusing on
the role of the pro-North Korean ethnic organization, Chongryon, which became
a powerful agency within Japan and provided the North Korean regime with
considerable funds and valuable intelligence at the expense of the host state. This
article contributes to identifying the Zainichi’s own transnational space—a rapidly
altering functional space within the Japanese host state and a space that provides
leverage that can be exploited by individuals or collective actors who make up the
elites of both the host state and the homeland.
Recent diaspora scholarships also substantiate the increasingly crucial role of
diasporas in international politics, explaining that diasporas have emerged as new
and potentially powerful actors in terms of shifting political mobilization in the
management, escalation and settlement of interstate conflicts (Adamson, 2002;

Journal of Asian Security and International Affairs 2(3)
Smith, 2007; Tölölyan, 1991). Diasporas can also provide influential lobbying
activities within their host state in favour of homeland (Shain & Barth, 2003)—
in more extreme case helping the creation of new transnational nations, as the
activities of the Armenian, Tamil and Croatian diasporas have historically shown
(Esman, 2009; Skrbis, 2007; Tölölyan, 2007). But how does a particular ethnic
group become engaged in ethnic mobilization in a transnational space, ending up
as a diaspora group involving itself in international relations or political strug-
gles? Fiona Adamson calls into question much of the conventional academic
wisdom on diasporas, insofar as established literature treats diasporas as effects
rather than causes; as ‘dependent variables’ rather than ‘independent variables’, or
as ‘political projects’ as opposed to ‘agents’ or ‘actors’ (Adamson, 2012, p. 26). If
this is the case, how do we explain the fact that the Zainichi diaspora or an entity
of ‘effect’—generated in the process of Japan’s transformation from multinational
empire into homogeneous mono-ethnic nation-state since the end of World
War II—has become an ‘agent’ capable of causing structural change?
‘Structure’ is one of the most important and elusive concepts in the social
sciences. The language of structure easily explains the shaping of social life into
consistent patterns, but seldom explores how these patterns become subject to
change over time. Structures shape people’s practices, but those practices in turn
constitute and reproduce structures (Sewell, 1992, p. 4). According to Anthony
Giddens, structure is both the medium and the outcome of the constituent prac-
tices of social systems. Structure enters simultaneously into the constitution of the
agent and social practices, and exists during the generating moments of this
constitution, a process Giddens refers to as a ‘duality of structure’ (Giddens, 1979,
p. 5). Dual structures are therefore potentially mutable, and as such Giddens
points out that structure must be regarded as a changing process, rather than a
steady state.
In the same way, Jeffrey Checkel defines causal mechanisms as pathways or
processes by which an effect is produced or a purpose is accomplished. Checkel
continues that philosophers of social science view causal mechanisms as ulti-
mately unobservable ontological entities that exist in the world, rather than in our
heads (Checkel, 2013, p. 10). According to the theories of structuralism or func-
tionalism, an organism’s structure exists independently of its function in a certain
specific sense: the parts of the body can still be studied even when the organism
dies—after it has stopped functioning. But such is not the case with social systems,
which cease to exist when they cease to function: patterns of social relationships
only exist insofar as they are organized as systems that have been reproduced over
the course of time (Giddens, 1979, p. 61). Thus, mechanisms are not merely inter-
vening variables, but concepts of relation and process in their own right.
Giddens identifies structure as non-temporal and non-spatial; he regards it as
virtual, and then conceptualizes it in the form of principles, which should be put
into practice in the production and reproduction of social life. He contends that
social systems exist in time–space and are constituted by social practices. In other
words, structures are not the patterned social practices that make up social
systems, but the principles that pattern these practices (Sewell, 1992, p. 6). But the
most important point Giddens emphasizes is the significance of the unintended

Kim 269
consequences of actions within the...

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