Gender, justice and geopolitics of undocumented North Korean migration

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Beverley Mullings


North Korean migration, Refugee, Gendered migration, Human security, East Asia, Feminist geopolitics, Undocumented migrants, Korea

Subject Categories



This dissertation explores the experiences of gendered migration and insecurity among North Koreans in the context of a changing geopolitics of East Asia. East Asia is in the transition from its Cold War stage and adapting to market driven neo-liberal imperatives. In this changing geopolitics, North Korea has been isolated from the global capitalist process and is increasingly the target of international criticisms due to its non-democratic political system and the possibility of its developing nuclear weapon. While much research on the implications of these shifts have focused on the changing geopolitical power held by states in the region and the regional level of security, few scholars have examined how the changing geopolitics of the region differently affects the safety and survival of North Koreans relative to their gender and class. In my dissertation, specifically, I focus on the experiences of migration and insecurity among North Koreans who cross the North Korean-Chinese border unofficially.

From a feminist geopolitical approach and based on extensive ethnographic filedwork conducted in North Korean-Chinese borderland, I envision the power relations at various scales that shape the gendered North Korean migration and threaten the bodies of North Korean migrants. By redefining scale and tracing the security and mobility of migrant bodies in accountable ways, this work advances feminist geopolitics by recovering the subaltern stories of North Korean women who migrate to China. I expect that this localized and embodied understanding of geopolitics will challenge the Euro-American-centric meta-narrative of post-Cold War geopolitics and can be seen as an example of alternative and more inclusive modes of spatialization.


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