Friday, August 10, 2007

Update on the apology post (paca)

I just got a really nice, knowledgable comment on my apology post from visiting blogger "ello" who I sorta know from Evil Editor. (Before I forget, ello, do you know any references for the conversations you talked about - newpapers, blogs, etc. They can even be in Korean. I can't read them, but my research partner can.) This inspired me to provide an update on the apology question.

If you remember, there were three scenarios I mentioned:

1) Your brother is a jerk to the boss.
2) The mass murder by someone of your ethnicity.
3) One mother possibly apologizing to another when their children break up.

In the comments, as I had "hoped" pretty much everyone said they wouldn't apologize for any of these things. I think everyone who responded is American. I say I "hoped" that just because it matches my guesses on how Americans would react, being, well, American too.

As you all can probably guess, these examples are instances in which, based entirely upon my conversations with my research partner and former classmate, a Korean person very well might apologize. In fact, for the jerky brother, the sister actually had to resign her position as well due to his actions. I think she resigned as a partial step in restoring honor to her family. For the break up ones, these are based on Korean TV dramas, which are wildly popular across Asia now, including in Hawaii, and spreading slowly on the mainland, such as L.A. (This is the Korean Wave if you've encountered the term yet, where K-pop is becoming mainstream. I want to watch one, but I'm really afraid I'll like it and lose 70 hours watching Jeon Ji-Hyun in My Sassy Girl, or something.) There are tons of instances in these dramas in which an engagement is being broken off and one mother has to apologize to another mother for it. Our best understanding of the rationale is that breaking an engagement is an offense to the entire family. In fact, it's from one whole family to another family. This can be the case even when the two people actually in the relationship are happy it's over.

Finally, yeah, the mass murder thing was the Virginia Tech shootings, where the killer was Korean-American. My partner mentioned Koreans she knew apologizing to Americans they encountered for the horrible event. As ello asked in her comment, WTF?

I don't really know TF, but I can give you the explanation we are about to submit to a journal.

One of the biggest theories of "politeness" is called face theory. Politeness here is much bigger than holding your fork the right way. It's all about how people relate to one another and how they treat one another with respect. In face theory, an apology is needed to restore face to someone who has lost it. So if I harm your face in some way, then I can restore equilibrium between us by apologizing. In the classic conception of face, there are two kinds. Negative face which says that a person wants to be free and unimpeded, and positive face in which a person wants their wants to be approved of by others. Apologies are most common when someone violates a person's negative face. For instance, if I bump into you on the street, that's a basic physical attack on your desire to act on your own will, and so I very well might apologize to you if I felt responsible. The face threatening acts can be a lot more abstract as well, of course.

J-W and I are modifying these concepts in various ways, which I won't go into here. (I should emphasize here that the ideas of "face" are not Korean-specific or even East Asian specific. The original ideas come from a bunch of Brits and Americans, and some of the biggest criticisms of the definitions come from people studying Chinese and Japanese societies.) One way we are changing the theory, though, is to allow things other than individual people to have face, namely culturally-defined groups of people.

So going back to the above examples, the family seems to clearly be a group in Korean society and the family as a whole can both be insulted and take responsibility for an insult. I would argue that this is also the case for Americans, though it is different. Parents can definitely apologize for their children in the right circumstances, particularly when they are young and cannot do it themselves. I can also imagine a parent telling a teen or adult child that they are embarassing the family. Group face can pop up in other groups, too, I think. I was once in a bar with a friend and he was starting to act pretty jerky to a couple women near us, and I began to feel a need to apologize for him, for us. In a somewhat trivial way, it can pop up in sports and even pop culture. If someone insults a person on your football team, you might take offense as well, even though they didn't offend you. To me it also seems more direct than "you like the other person on your team and so you are mad". No, the jerk insulted the group of which you are a part.

So for the Virginia Tech case, it would seem that ethnicity is a group that has face in Korean culture. In the right circumstances, you can insult the face of the entire ethnicity and one of its members can shame the entire ethnicity. Another case we've found of this might be Dr. Hwang who was caught falsifying research a couple years ago on stem cell work at Seoul National U. By his act, he appears to have shamed not just himself or his lab, but his University and the entire nation. Therefore, he had to apologize to the entire nation to restore the nation's face. While I as an American definitely don't think of things quite like this, I'm not sure it makes any less sense than believing my football team or army infantry unit has a face to maintain.

I can make up a reason that nation / ethnicity is so strong for Korea, but it's just making one up. I know pretty little about Korea actually, and I've just started reading my first history of the nation. However, one point that the author makes is that Korea is rather unusual in that, by and large, for over a thousand years, the nation, the ethnic group, and the language had the same borders. In modern times, this is no longer true in a variety of ways, but not for most of the history. This just means that almost everyone who identified as Korean culturally was part of the Korean nation (Silla, Korye, Choson were the principal dynasties) and everyone in the Korean nation was culturally Korean. There were no large minorities who spoke another language (though Korean has a number of dialects which might be more diverse than people let on) and there have been no large migrations of other peoples into the Korean peninsula. I'm just guessing that in such circumstances one can develop a very strong sense of ethnic and cultural solidarity.**

Now, I'm always looking for ways that people are more alike one another than different, and so part of what we will argue is that some of these features which might be accented in Korean apology use can also be seen to lesser degrees in other cultures.

But we will see. And anyone can feel free to correct any of this. It's based largely on our one research project, which is pretty scant evidence.

pacapaca

** The Korean diaspora today is fairly large and growing. There are significant Korean populations in Japan, north China, Hawaii, and the mainlaind, California, particularly, and probably other places I don't know. Korean is no longer the main language for some of these groups, such as 2nd and 3rd generation Korean-Americans who only speak English or the thousands of Korean adoptees into English-speaking families. And of course there's that whole North Korea / South Korea thing going on.

Trivia Note: Why does the Kim sirname seem so huge in Korea? Part of the answer is that the dynasty which first unified most of the Korean peninsula was named Silla, and Kim was the dominant family/clan which ruled as its kings/emperors. It was good to be a Kim. (Again, please correct if there's a better explanation.)

2 comments:

Ello said...

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/312031_korean18.html

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/local/bal-te.md.korean21apr21,0,2690523.story?track=rss

Hey Pacatrue!

I posted two links to articles that I remembered caused alot of uproar because of Shin and Lee's stupid comments. It triggered alot of great reaction on the blogosphere. If you plug in a search on guilt and shame with Korean American - you should get alot of strong opinions on the subject!

There was a really good letter that was making the email rounds. I'm gonna try and see if I can find it. But it really encapsulated the Korean American reaction to collective outpouring of Korean shame that was bombarding us.

You raise really good points in your post and I would add that I think you have a "shame society" compared to a "guilt culture". Koreans have been raised on shame, not shaming the family, etc. Americans have been raised in a culture where the individual is responsible for their guilty deeds. These two cultures are not very compatable and hard to understand from the other perspective. You've inspired me to do a post about this on my own blog (but later- I'm too tired!). Another thing that I would raise to your Korean nationality point (my second novel in progress is based on an unknown event of Korean history during the Three Kingdoms period) is that you are absolutely right about Korea being a diverse culture for most of its long history. However, I would propose that the importance of Korean nationality really reached its peak during the Japanese occupation where Japan tried to destroy Korean culture, history and language - going so far as giving all Koreans Japanese names and making it illegal to speak Korean in Korea. What happened was the opposite of what Japane had wanted, a fierce desire to retain its language and culture and to respond as one nation against the enemy intruder. Anyway, some quick thoughts before I have to go! Will pop by later and will look for that letter for you.

Cheers!

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