A Kinship of Spectralities: Korean Transnational Adoptees and the Korean Diaspora

Dr Ryan Gustafsson1

1Asia Institute, University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

The figure of the Korean transnational adoptee has proven ambiguous and difficult to categorize. Hübinette contends that ethnic and migration studies rarely include adoptees, since ‘adoption is not really conceptualized as a migration’ (2016: 223). Kyeyoung Park’s (1999) analysis of Korean American migrants’ experiences of self and community, for instance, neglects to mention adoptees as constituting a sizeable proportion (8%) of the Korean American population, and who also navigate cultural expectations and racial discrimination that warrant conceptual engagement. Grace Cho’s book, Haunting the Korean Diaspora, provides a compelling account of how militarism and transgenerational haunting constitutes the Korean diaspora in the United States. Yet the adoptee appears very briefly and only once in Cho’s book – and as a ghost. In this paper, I engage with Cho’s book and Jodi Kim’s work on militarism. I argue that conceptualizing the Korean diaspora as constituted by haunting provides a useful framework for theorizing adoptee experiences, hence extending Cho’s analyses. I do not equate the experiences of adoptees with that of Korean first and second-generation migrants; rather, I argue for the theorization of a ‘kinship of spectralities’ among these groups.


Ryan S. Gustafsson is an Honorary fellow at the Asia Institute. Trained in continental philosophy and social theory, they are working on a research project theorizing Korean transnational adoption. They are also currently completing a book manuscript, The Rehabilitation of the Possible: On Nature in Merleau-Ponty’s Philosophy.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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