Care is a multivocal and thus often elusive word to define in both scholarly and everyday use. Multiple anthropological studies, from those of ancient hunter-gatherer societies to those of modern capitalist societies, have demonstrated that the questions of who/what should be cared for and how to attend to someone or something presumably in need of care are always vexed issues at both individual and collective levels. This paper reflects on the concept of care, by examining South Korea’s subsidized postpartum care which has been recently promoted by the state as a milestone towards a “caring” society. By tracing the design and implementation of the policy and social discourses on the maternity care project, this paper shows how the ethico-moral value of care coexists with paternalistic governance of the nation-state as well as the market paradigm of care commodification. As an affectively charged and selective arrangement of physical, material, and/or emotional support for postpartum women, South Korean postpartum care policies and practices complicate the ideas of quality maternity care, welfare society, Koreanness, and most of all, the very concept of care. Illustrating how the state-sponsored postpartum care support program generates distinctive moral, political, and economic expectations and responsibilities from both individual and collective agents, particularly with respect to the female reproductive body, the paper involves in the discussion of care.
Yoonjung Kang is a PhD candidate in the Department of Anthropology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her main research interests are ethical dilemmas and questions provoked by human reproduction in contemporary capitalism. She is particularly concerned with the ways in which ideas of care, health, tradition, and science and technologies are implicated in the meanings and practices of pregnancy and childbirth, as well as the (re)making of norms and ideologies of the female reproductive body, gender, class, family/kinship, and the state.