Subcontracted mothering: a discourse on professionalism in childcare in South Korea

Minjung Lim, Kyungpook National University
Jinhee Kim, Kennesaw State University
Kyunghwa Lee, University of Georgia


The provision of childcare has been prioritized by the South Korean government as a primary means of decelerating the dropping fertility rate and boosting women’s employment by reducing the childrearing burden. Drawing on a Bakhtinian perspective, this study examined how discourses on professionalism and the professional identities of the childcare workforce are constructed in dialogic relation to the nation’s childcare policies. A total of 18 childcare practitioners and mothers participated in qualitative interviews about the professionalism of the childcare workforce. The study revealed that the participating childcare practitioners and mothers valued emotional and relational caring as a core element of childcare professionalism, while simultaneously recognizing childcare as a job stigmatized by both low qualifications and poor working conditions. We discuss how these discourses on the professionalism of the childcare workforce both stand in tension with and appropriate the early childhood education and care policies in Korea.