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Visiting Professor Eun-shil Kim Holds Workshop on Gender and Sexuality

Eunshil Kim workshop flyer

Professor Eun-shil Kim, the 2015-16 East Asia Program Korea Foundation Distinguished Visiting Professor in Korean Studies, has organized a workshop "Gender and Sexuality in the Neoliberal Regime of South Korea" held Friday, October 30th, 1:00-6:00pm, in 374 Rockefeller Hall (Asian Studies Lounge). This workshop brought to Cornell four Korean Studies scholars of gender and sexuality as well as a number of graduate students working in this field in North America. This opportunity is made possible by the residence of Professor Kim for this Fall 2015 semester. 

This workshop presented four talks by scholars from University of Toronto, Syracuse University, Scripps College, and New York University, followed by a round-table discussion of the topic of how gender and sexuality are situated within the neoliberal context of contemporary Korean society. 

  • Introduction - Professor Eun-shil Kim (Ewha Womans University, EAP Korea Foundation Distinguished Professor in Korean Studies 2015-2016) 
  • 1:10-2:00pm - Jesook Song (Anthropology, University of Toronto) “Affective Baggage and Self-Suspension in Contemporary South Korea” discussant: Naoki Sakai (Cornell)
  • 2:05-2:55pm - Eunjung Kim (Syracuse University) "Curing Virginity: Disabled Sexuality and the Humanitarian Appeal" discussant: Saida Hodžić (Cornell)
  • 3:10-4:00pm - Seo Young Park (Scripps College, Claremont, California) “My Skill: Precarious Attachments and Narratives of Korean Garment Workers” discussant: Hiro Miyazaki (Cornell) 
  • 4:05-4:55pm - June Hee Kwon (New York University) “The Work of Waiting: Love and Money in Korean Chinese Transnational Migration” discussant: Yukiko Hanawa (NYU) 
  • 5:00-6:00pm - Round-table discussion: the situation of gender and sexuality within neoliberal South Korea and Korean Studies

The discourse of neoliberalism is so popular in Korean academic circles that in some sense all emerging problems are attributed to neoliberalism. At the same time,misogyny is so prevalent in Korea, especially through SNS, that it is regarded as a kind of gender war and a social and cultural violence against women.The hatred of women pivots on the basic idea that men are suffering from having to take care of women and the family, and that women are selfish, materialistic, and treat men as if they are a source of bottomless funds. Neoliberal restructuring policies are very closely related to the hatred of women. In everyday discourses, critical questions regarding neoliberal policies are replaced with the claim that women demonstrate a lack of responsibility for harmonious gender relations, family and social reproduction, and are therefore ‘selfish.’ Young men fear and are anxious about their future in a competitive market driven society and this is conveniently redirected and represented as distress stemming from issues of dating, marriage and sexuality; men are represented as being emotionally hurt. On the other hand, women are regarded as empowered through female friendly social support systems represented by the establishment of the Ministry of Gender Equality as well as the feminist movements of the 90s. But in fact, during the turn of the 21st century, women in Korean society faced contradictory conditions in which women-friendly laws and policies were legislated during the 90s while neoliberal economic policies, hand in hand with restructuring government and social institutions, marginalized women within the economic market and the state apparatus. During the 2010s, market value and class became discursive keywords in order to explain someone’s identity and potential. According to the labor market, the female gender is the less valued commodity. Within this kind of sociocultural context, this workshop invites four researchers who are exploring issues of gender and sexuality within and trans- South Korea. In the face of the saturation and loosening of the term neoliberalism, these four scholars will deal with how the notion of gender and sexuality is situated within and trans- Korean society, how scholars can problematize the neoliberal context of Korean society, and how to change the way in which questions are framed for and by the neoliberal market. 


Jesook Song (Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Toronto) "Affective Baggage and Self-Suspension in Contemporary South Korea" 

This talk addresses tensions between affective regimes that the generation of former student activists experience in the post-liberalization and post-Asian Debt Crisis eras: solemn sensibility of social obligation and enjoyability in life. By centering on the imperatives of enjoyment embodied in the lives and environments of single women, it features the ironic convergence of enjoyment as an anti-establishment affect and enjoyment as an attribute of neoliberal self-management. Further, it shows how the affective influence from the pre-liberalization era is maintained in single women's activities in political and social organizations.

Eunjung Kim (Assistant Professor, Women's and Gender Studies, Syracuse University) "Curing Virginity: Disabled Sexuality and the Humanitarian Appeal" 

In this presentation, Kim examines the public attention to the “sex drive” (sŏngyok) of men with physical disabilities that emerged in South Korea in the last two decades. In this discourse, the sexual oppression of people with disabilities is reduced to the lack of sexual outlet, invoking the neoliberal appeal of pity and humanitarian sentiment followed by individual solutions of commercial sex service or "sex volunteer" service. These sensationalized solutions appear as if they challenge sexual taboo and prejudice, despite their gendered operations and ableist assumptions. Kim analyzes international media coverage and two films, Pink Palace (2005) and Sex Volunteer (2009), with a focus on the emotional politics surrounding disability, virginity, and sex work. In her comparative analysis, Kim also considers the recent representations of sexual victimization of disabled people in order to complicate the desire to rescue.

Seo Young Park (Assistant Professor of Anthropology, Scripps College) "My Skill: Precarious Attachments and Narratives of Korean Garment Workers" 

In this paper, I will first discuss a cultural logic that furthers the highly gendered notion of garment work in the state planning and popular media. The logic regards garment works as being temporally obsolete as a way to render tangible marker of the shift of South Korean economy from the industrial manufacturing in 1970s-80s to the post-industrial knowledge one in the 2000s. I will challenge this evolutionary scenario by presenting the narratives of two distinctive groups of women: one group in their 30s who have made a new entry into the garment industry and the other who have been constantly working as garment seamstresses for more than 35 years. I capture ethnographic moments in which they emphasize a strong attachment to their “own skills” and argue that the narratives of skills reveal the ways my informants seek the solid ground of the present in multiple ways. Their attachments complicate the simple logic of the neoliberal subject formation of entrepreneurial self as they highlight historically situated despairs, aspirations, and sensibilities that people engage in under conditions of their own disposability.

June Hee Kwon (Assistant Professor of East Asian Studies, New York University) "The Work of Waiting: Love and Money in Korean Chinese Transnational Migration"

Over the past two decades, Yanbian, the Korean Chinese Autonomous Prefecture on the border with North Korea, has been dominated by the “Korean Wind,” massive Korean Chinese transnational labor migration to South Korea. Korean Chinese have undertaken this migration as a response to the onset of privatization in China. In so doing, they have built an economy and culture based on remittances sent back by family members working in South Korea. The ethnographic focus in this essay is on those who are waiting for remittances or the return of their loved ones, processes that are conditioned by visa constraints and economic needs. I argue that waiting, for love or money, is unwaged affective work that generates not only a financial safety net but also a binding force between the separated parties. I also argue that waiting as an act of love is eventually transformed into a form of labor that requires managing flows of money, and thereby remakes the expectations and realities of spousal relationships. My ethnography of waiting, which describes betrayals as well as appreciative partners, elaborates on the experiences of those who do not actually migrate but who nonetheless function as key agents sustaining one pole of migration. The work of waiting enables mobility and provides a foundation to migratory circulations.