Korea’s Great Transformation and Hagen Koo’s Sociological Journey

Hagen KooIn the past half century, South Korea has transformed itself from a poor agricultural country into a highly industrialized and globalized society.

Throughout this transformation, Hagen Koo, professor of sociology at the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa, has been studying and writing about the remarkable social changes Korea has experienced.

Now, on the eve of his retirement, Professor Koo will offer a lecture reflecting on his past research endeavors and the trends of sociological theories that have influenced his work.

He will speak May 11, 2017, at 4:00 p.m. in the Center for Korean Studies auditorium.

Hagen KooHagen Koo is a graduate of Seoul National University and received his Ph.D. in sociology at Northwestern University in 1974. His association with the University of Hawai‘i started the following year. Then a faculty member at Memphis State University, he participated in the second major conference staged by the recently created UH Center for Korean Studies, a multidisciplinary conference on South Korea. Koo subsequently spent the 1978‒1979 academic year at Mānoa as a visiting professor in the Sociology Department, and in 1981 he joined the UH faculty.

The author of numerous articles and chapters in his field, he has also produced notable books. His Korean Workers: The Culture and Politics of Class Formation (Cornell University Press, 2001) won the American Sociological Association’s award for the most distinguished book published on Asia during 2001‒2003. The book has been translated into Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai.

Other works include the edited volumes State and Society in Contemporary Korea (Cornell University Press, 1993) and (with Kim Keong-il and Kim Jun) Modern Korean Labor: A Sourcebook (Academy of Korean Studies Press, 2015).

Koo describes his current research as being focused on the nature of economic development and neoliberal globalization in East Asia. In particular, he is interested in the ways structural changes generate new forms of class inequality and institutional changes in East Asian societies.

He is currently working on a book tentatively titled Cosmopolitan Anxiety: South Korea’s Globalized Middle Class in which he is exploring “the ways the South Korean middle class has changed significantly as a consequence of neoliberal globalization—from a relatively homogeneous and upwardly mobile class to an internally polarized, anxiety ridden, and politically unpredictable class.”

Center for Korean Studies events are free and open to all. For further information, including information regarding access for the handicapped, telephone the Center at (808) 956-7041. The University of Hawai‘i is an equal opportunity/affirmative action Institution.

Children’s Literature in Modern Korea

Zur book coverStanford University Korean literature specialist Dafna Zur will explore the emergence and development of writing for children in modern Korea in a lecture at the Center for Korean Studies Friday, April 7, 2017. Zur’s talk will begin at 4:00 p.m. in the Center’s conference room. In her presentation, she will elaborate on the research she did for her forthcoming book, Figuring Korean Futures: Children’s Literature in Modern Korea. The book will be published later this year by Stanford University Press.

Zur’s research examined children’s periodicals against the political, educational, and psychological discourses of their time. She found that the figure of the child was particularly favorable to the project of modernity and nation-building, as well as to the colonial and post-colonial projects of socialization and nationalization. According to her study, Korean children’s literature has built on a trajectory that begins with the child as an organic part of nature and ends, in the post-colonial era, with the child as the primary agent of control of nature. The figure of the child became a driving force of nostalgia that stood in for future aspirations for the individual, family, class, and nation.

Dafna Zur photoDafna Zur is an assistant professor in the East Asian Languages and Cultures Department at Stanford University, where she teaches courses on Korean literature, cinema, and popular culture. She earned her doctorate at the University of British Columbia and has published articles on North Korean science fiction, the Korean War in children’s literature of North and South Korea, Korean folk tales, and childhood in cinema. Her translations have been published in wordwithoutborders.org, The Columbia Anthology of Modern Korean Short Stories, Azalea, Asia Literary Review, and Waxen Wings.

Center for Korean Studies events are free and open to all. This presentation is supported by the Core University Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2015-OLU-2250005). For further information, including information regarding access for the handicapped, telephone the Center for Korean Studies at (808) 956-7041. The University of Hawai‘i is an equal opportunity/affirmative action Institution.

Expired: From Miracle to Mirage: The Korean Middle Class

Myungji YangMyungji Yang, assistant professor in the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa Department of Political Science, will trace fifty years of development of the middle class in South Korea in a lecture at the Center for Korean Studies Thursday, April 6, 2017. The lecture, titled “From Miracle to Mirage: The Making and Unmaking of the Korean Middle Class, 1960–2010,” will begin at 4:00 p.m. in the Center’s conference room.

Economic growth has established comfortable middle-class lifestyles as a norm in South Korea. Despite this success, Yang says, fewer people are identifying themselves as members of the middle class. Many perceive that their standard of living has deteriorated and that the possibility of upward mobility is declining.

In her talk, Yang will examine the puzzle of why the middle class that was both cause and consequence of Korea’s economic development seems to have declined. Drawing on primary archival sources and in-depth interviews from a year of field research, she will focus on the unpredictable process inherent in the scramble for middle-class status in Korea.

Yang’s research has shown that many first-generation members of the middle class achieved upward mobility by engaging in speculation and taking advantage of skyrocketing real estate prices. This contrasts with previous studies that mostly explain the rise of the middle class as a consequence of a meritocratic order that provided white-collar workers, corporate managers, and engineers in large conglomerates with higher incomes, long-term job security, and consumerist lifestyles. Through an analysis of the lives and experiences of the middle class as shaped by the housing market, she will reveal the reality behind the myth of middle-class formation in Korea.

Myungji Yang studies the politics of development using qualitative methods. Her research is particularly concerned with the nexus between authoritarian regimes, identity politics, and development in South Korea and China. Her doctoral dissertation at Brown University dealt with how authoritarian regimes nurtured the urban middle classes in South Korea and China in order to reconstruct the nation and strengthen political legitimacy.

Center for Korean Studies events are free and open to all. This presentation is supported by the Core University Program for Korean Studies through the Ministry of Education of the Republic of Korea and the Korean Studies Promotion Service of the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2015-OLU-2250005). For further information, including information regarding access for the handicapped, telephone the Center for Korean Studies at (808) 956-7041. The University of Hawai‘i is an equal opportunity/affirmative action Institution.

Expired: Yun Ch’i-ho, Market Logic, and Liberalism in Colonial Korea

Henry EmHow might we go about writing a critical history of liberalism in Korea, and how might that history be relevant to the (global) present? Those questions will be the starting point of a lecture by Henry Em of Yonsei University titled “Until You Can Bite: Yun Ch’i-ho, Market Logic, and Liberalism in Colonial Korea.” The talk will take place Thursday, March 2, 2017, in the UH Manoa Department of History seminar room, Sakamaki Hall A201, beginning at 1:30 p.m.

Focusing on Yun Ch’i-ho, a Christian reformist and government official prior to Korea’s annexation by Japan in 1910, Professor Em will argue that colonial-era liberals like Yun Ch’i-ho were complicit in creating a class alliance between the (colonial) state and propertied classes while also creating a society of competitive individuals. Basing his analyses on Yun Ch’i-ho’s Diary, he will examine several emergent aspects of liberalism in colonial Korea: economic thinking (market logic) and its dissemination into spheres of life and work; modes of feeling that endeavored to make certain ideas, values, and behavior normative; and reflexivity, via linguistic innovation, that objectified self and others for incessant evaluation and competition.

Henry Em is associate professor of Korean history at Underwood International College, Yonsei University. He received his B.A. and Ph.D. (history, 1995) from the University of Chicago. From 1995 through 2012, he was assistant professor at UCLA and the University of Michigan and associate professor at New York University. He was a Fulbright senior scholar to Korea (1998-1999) and visiting professor at Centre de Recherches sur la Corée, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris (2000). His recent publications include “Historians and History Writing in Modern Korea,” Oxford History of Historical Writing, volume 5 (Oxford University Press, 2011), The Great Enterprise: Sovereignty and Historiography in Modern Korea (Duke University Press, 2013), and The Unending Korean War, a special issue of Positions: Asia Critique, co-edited with Christine Hong, Winter, 2015.

A reception for students and faculty will follow the talk. For more information, contact the Department of History at (808) 956-8486.

North Korea’s Vinalon City

C. Harrison KimThe history of the synthetic fiber vinalon will be the subject of a lecture by Prof. C. Harrison Kim of the University of Missouri on Wednesday, February 22, 2017, in the UH Manoa Department of History seminar room, Sakamaki Hall A201. Kim’s talk–titled “North Korea’s Vinalon City: Industrialism as Socialist Everyday Life”–will begin at 12:30 p.m.

In the early 1960s, vinalon became North Korea’s national fiber, a product that symbolized the independence and ingenuity of its state socialism, from the raw materials needed to make it (coal and limestone) to the person who invented it (the Japanese colonial-era chemist Ri Sŭnggi). The Vinalon Factory near Hamhŭng City—a factory originally built by a Japanese chemical company and a city rebuilt by East Germany—also became a national emblem. Vinalon City was a transnational object par excellence, but it was immutably localized as everyday narrative for the ordinary North Korean people, replete with its labor heroes who achieved superhuman levels of productivity. The everyday dimension is precisely where the ideological workings of state power are hidden. The history of vinalon reveals a characteristic of ideology of work—the subsumption of life by labor—a characteristic that is certainly not limited to North Korea.

A graduate of Columbia University, Harrison Kim is an assistant professor in the Department of History at the University of Missouri. His research interests include everyday life, industrial work, socialism, and the modern city in the context of Korea and, in particular, North Korea. Kim’s book, Furnace is Breathing: Work as Life in Postwar North Korea, forthcoming from Columbia University Press, is about industrial work as a defining ideological activity in North Korea’s socialism after the Korean War and about the workers who lived during the demanding times of postwar reconstruction.

A reception for students and faculty will follow the talk. For more information, contact the Department of History at (808) 956-8486.