Markus Bell

Dr Markus Bell

Lecturer in Korean and Japanese Studies

BA (Otago), MA (Seoul National) PhD (Australian National University)

Contact details
Tel: 0114 222 8336
Room: A02


I am a social and cultural anthropologist who joined SEAS in September 2016 after completing a PhD in anthropology at the Australian National University.

My current research uses ethnographic research methods to examine contemporary and cold war migration between Japan and North Korea. I’m particularly interested in the lives of individuals who have moved back and forth between Japan and North Korea, and the significance of their memories of movement and resettlement in shaping a diasporic identity. These questions are contextualised within the larger social processes and historical forces that shaped the latter half of the twentieth century in Northeast Asia, and the epoch defining challenges that continue to cast a long shadow on relations between North Korea, South Korea, and Japan.

I am currently working on a book based on my research in Korea and Japan titled, ‘Heaven Across the Water: Migration, Memory, and Identity in North Korea.’

Within Sheffield’s School of East Asian Studies I teach into the Korean Studies undergraduate programme as a degree lecturer. I am also the seminar series coordinator for SEAS, promoting the continued exchange of ideas on topics related to East Asia throughout the UK, and beyond.


Associated research groups, collaborators and projects

Migration Research Group - Member

I am an anthropologist by training and please importance on ethnographic-based research. This includes the researcher spending extended periods of time within the community being researched and acquiring language skills.

Having said this, my research is interdisciplinary in nature, building on thick, ethnographic analysis with archival and oral histories, while tying the vagaries of the everyday to the epochal moments of the geo-political.

My core interest lies in the experiences of individuals from North Korea who have left their country, often under extreme duress. Through my research I have developed a deep understanding of the manifold forces acting to both ‘push’ and ‘pull’ a person across the Sino-Korean border, from North Korea into China; and the challenges that face migrants once they begin their new life outside of North Korea. Many of these challenges are not unique to North Koreans by any means; elements of the stories of many North Korean refugees are found in the narratives of Syrians arriving on the shores of Europe and Afghani asylum seekers incarcerated on Nauru Island, off Australia.

I also maintain active research interests in the grassroots changes occurring within North Korean society – from the rise of the informal markets to the influence of the emerging North Korean diaspora. I am further interested in the ‘Abduction issue’ as it plays out between North Korea and Japan; ancestor worship of North Koreans in exile; food and migration; and memory and migration.

I enjoy research supervision and welcome enquiries from potential students wishing to work on any topic related to my expertise. I am also available for commentary on any issues related to my research.


I coordinate the following modules:

EAS252 : Lives in Motion - Migration and Northeast Asia
EAS254 : Understanding Contemporary North Korea
EAS206: Contemporary Korean Society

I also teach on our Korean language programme, taking responsibility for two courses on advanced translation.

Teaching Philosophy

Anthropological research is about finding a balance between what a researcher takes from society and what they contribute back. Over the course of my research I volunteered in several non-governmental organisations, serving the North Korean community in Seoul, South Korea, in Sydney, Australia, and in Osaka, Japan. I continue to offer my time and experience to organisations working in this field.

With this in mind, I am dedicated to research that makes a genuine difference in the lives of people, and recognizing not only privileged voices in the making and reproduction of knowledge. I want students to understand the responsibility that lies in conducting ethnographic research, in detailing histories often left unheard, and in developing a cognizance of their role within these unfolding stories: as researcher, scribe, and agent in narratives of the less powerful.

I value teaching excellence that inspires students to develop their knowledge and skills in their field of study. I further encourage students to develop critical faculties that will enable a more nuanced understanding of the world beyond the lecture theatre.



Bell, Markus. ‘Heaven Across the Water: Memories Of Migration To And From North Korea’, under contract with Berghahn Books: forthcoming, 2019.

Bell, Markus, Kim, Kyungmook, Menadue-Chun, Susan. A North Korean Refugee in Japan-Hana’s Stories: Textbook for Peace Education, Asia Press Publishing. January 2016.

Academic Journals

Bell, Markus. (2019) “Reimagining North Korea: The Korean Diaspora's Changing Relationship to the Homeland,” The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, forthcoming.

Bell, Markus. (2018) “Patriotic Revolutionaries and Imperial Sympathizers: Identity and selfhood of Korean-Japanese migrants from Japan to North Korea,” Crosscurrents: East Asian History and Culture Review, Vol. 27, pp.1-25.

Bell, Markus & Fattig, Geoff. (2018) “Socializing a Nuclear North Korea: Non-traditional Security in Contemporary Northeast Asia,” North Korean Review, Vol.14 (1), pp. 30-48.

Bell, Markus & Milani, Marco. (2018) “Introduction: An Inter-Disciplinary Approach to the Security Challenges of North Korea,” North Korea Review, Vol.14 (1), pp. 5-10.

Bell, Markus & Song, Jiyoung. (2018) “North Korean Secondary Asylum in the UK,” Migration Studies, University of Oxford Press, Vol. 6 (1), pp. 1-20.

Bell, Markus. (2016) “Making and Breaking Family: North Korea’s Zainichi Returnees and “the Gift”,” in Asian Anthropology 15 (3): 260-76.

Dalton, B. M., Jung, K., Willis, J. & Bell, M. (2015) “Framing and Dominant Metaphors in the Coverage of North Korea in the Australian Media,” in The Pacific Review.

Bell Markus. (2014) “The Ties that Bind Us: Transnational Networks of North Koreans on the Move,” in Resilience: International Policies, Practices and Discourses, Routledge, Taylor and Francis, Vol. 3, 14 May 2014.

Bell Markus & Fattig Geoffrey. (2014) “International Cooperation on the North Korean Refugee Crisis,” Forced Migration Review, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford, (45) 2014, pp.59-61.

Bell, Markus. (2013) “We’re So Happy to Have You Here (But We’d Rather You Hadn’t Come),” in Studia Universitatis Babes-Bolyai Philologia, 2013, Vol. 58, East Asian Studies, pp. 221-231.

Bell, Markus. (2013) “Manufacturing Kinship in a Nation Divided: An Ethnographic Study of North Korean Refugees in South Korea,” in The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, Vol. 14 (3) 2013

Book chapters:

Bell, Markus. (forthcoming 2019). “‘The Difference Between Life and Death’: Zainichi Koreans’ Food Culture in North Korea,” in Stephen Epstein and Rumi Sakamoto (eds), Popular Culture and the Transformation of Japan-Korea Relations, Routledge.

Bell Markus, and Armytage Rosita, (forthcoming 2018). “Ethnography from Afar: North Korea’s Border Population and Diaspora,” in Cathcart, Green, and Denney (eds.), Decoding the Sino-North Korean Borderlands, University of Amsterdam Press.

Other Publications


Recent Public Talks (selected)

2018: Special lecture, “North Korea’s Nuclear Attack, the Bloody Nose Strike, and the Failure of Economic Sanctions” Oxford University, Geographic Society, June.

2018: Special lecture, “Why nuclear war with North Korea is not imminent and other common myths explained,” Royal Geographic Society Speaker Series, London, March.

2018: Special lecture, “Memories of Exodus to North Korea, 1959-1984,” Japan Society Lecture, London, February.

2017: “North Korea and North-East Asian security: Reconciling conflicting national interests.” SOAS, London, December 3.

2017: “The North Korean Crisis: what next?” SEAS, Sheffield, November 23.

2017: “Reimagining the Self: North Korean multiple migrants’ remaking time and place in contemporary Japan”, SOAS, London, September.

2017: “Socializing a Nuclear North Korea: Human Security in Northeast Asia,” AAS-in Asia Conference, Seoul, June.

2017: “Remembering Homes Left Behind: North Koreans’ Reimagining of Japan,” AKSE 2017 Conference, Prague, April.

2017: Special lecture, “Ancestor Worship Practices of North Koreans in Exile,” at Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, Romania, April.

2016: “Being Japanese in North Korea: Multi-territorialisation in Cold War North Korea,” Joint East Asian Studies Conference, SOAS, London, September 7-9.