“You are you, and I am me”: Membership Categorization in a Korean reality show

Author: Hanbyul Jung (Seoul National University)
Speaker: Hanbyul Jung
Topic: Linguistic Anthropology
The (SCOPUS / ISI) SOAS GLOCAL CALA 2019 General Session


Categorization and construction of “foreignness” is an often utilized concept in Korean reality television shows. Real-time discussion on various topics by participants from diverse international origins have constituted a popular sector in Korean television (i.e., Misuda “The beauties’ chatterbox”; Bijeongsanghoedam “Non-Summit”) with the participants’ varying levels of Korean language proficiency as well as their display of foreignness ranking up the entertainment factor. This study examines another similar yet different TV show, Babel 250, in which such foreignness is not only occasionally invoked, but rather constitutes the very core of the production theme. Using Conversation Analysis and Membership Categorization Analysis (Fitzgerald & Housley, 2015), this study aims to examine how participants use multimodal resources (Mondada, 2014) to reformulate the presumed categorization of ‘foreignness,’ while constructing their individual identity void of language and culture specific assumptions.

The main concept of Babel 250 is to construct a self-supported community with a new language system that embodies the characteristics of each of the six participants’ individual language and culture. The participants, all new to Korea with the exception of one Korean participant, are required to only speak their language—neither Korean nor English—as they attempt to build a community in a rural area of South Korea. Despite the goal and rules of the show, which is to create a new community void of Korean cultural assumption, the show also includes interaction between the participants and local farmers—who only speak Korean, thus creating instances in which one or more of the participants are constructed as “foreigner” who needs to learn (or be taught) Korean language and culture. This study examines a collection of sequences in which such categorization is rejected and reformulated by the participants, and further aims to illustrate the distinct practices and interactional consequences of ‘foreign’ participants’ construction and rejection as category incumbents. The possible impact that such categorization has on the audience and their understanding of foreignness will also be discussed.


Fitzgerald, R., & Housley, W. (Eds.) (2015). Advances in membership categorization analysis. Los Angeles: Sage.

Mondada, L. (2014). The local constitution of multimodal resources for social interaction. Journal of Pragmatics, 65, 137–156.
Keywords: Membership Categorization Analysis, Conversation Analysis, Foreignness, Media Discourse