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Feminist Entanglements with the Neoliberal Welfare State: NGOS and Domestic Worker Organizing in South Korea

Gendering Struggles against Informal and Precarious Work

ISBN: 978-1-78769-368-5, eISBN: 978-1-78769-367-8

ISSN: 0198-8719

Publication date: 10 December 2018


In this chapter, we examine the multifaceted challenges that feminist labor organizations face in decommodifying the lives and labor of poor and working-class women. Using an in-depth case study of domestic worker organizing in South Korea, we find that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as the National House Managers Cooperative and the Korean Women Workers Association became entangled in hegemonic state projects that linked support for women’s basic livelihoods to the proliferation of part-time, informal domestic work in the context of widespread crises. To challenge the discriminatory and market-driven logics of state-driven social protection efforts, these NGOs have advanced an emancipatory agenda to improve the working conditions, labor rights, and social dignity of domestic workers through consciousness-raising grassroots organizing methods and contentious policy advocacy campaigns. Their social movement transformation goals, however, have been constrained by the relative organizational isolation and limited organizational capacity of feminist labor NGOs in a broader context of neoliberal precaritization and gender-stratified labor markets. The myriad dilemmas facing domestic worker organizing in an era of global hegemonic market rule highlight the need to develop new political imaginaries to contest gender and economic injustice.




We are are deeply indebted to Jin Kyoung Bae, Maria Chol-Soon Rhee, and the leaders and members of the Korean Women Workers Association for their invaluable time and generous insights. We are grateful to Cynthia Cranford and the participants of the 2016 Exploratory Workshop at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study for their excellent comments on previous drafts. We acknowledge the Ford Foundation for supporting the fieldwork as part of the multi-country comparative research project, “Informal Construction and Domestic Work: Collaborative Research on Institutional Influences on Job Quality” (Chris Tilly, PI; Jennifer Jihye Chun, South Korea country coordinator, 2015–2018).


Chun, J.J. and Kim, Y.-S. (2018), "Feminist Entanglements with the Neoliberal Welfare State: NGOS and Domestic Worker Organizing in South Korea", Gendering Struggles against Informal and Precarious Work (Political Power and Social Theory, Vol. 35), Emerald Publishing Limited, Bingley, pp. 147-168.



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