Contentious Politics on the Korean Peninsula: Workshop at the University of Toronto

In 2013-14, I was awarded a research grant by the Academy of Korean Studies for which I was the principle investigator, and was joined by two colleagues from the Sino-NK research cluster. Having traveled twice to Korea and northeast China thanks to the grant, and having gone through the various layers of grant reporting, the fun part is now happening: The publication of research results and the production of more research articles based on the grant.

One such article was published in the December 2014 issue of Review of Korean Studies, entitled How Authoritarian Regimes Maintain Domain Consensus: North Korea’s Information Strategies in the Kim Jong-un Era.”  As a co-authored piece with my co-investigators on the grant — Christopher Green and Steven Denney — the article delved in to several issues which we are still tearing into, foremost the idea that the North Korean state does more than simply repress its people; it engages in a complex array of strategies seeking to co-opt and convince its citizens that the DPRK is, in fact, an advantageous place to live. My contribution to the research group has in part been based upon my research into North Korean musical cultures and cultural diplomacy.

The following event at the University of Toronto will reunite the research team and hopefully lead to another round of grant-writing and publication. At the workshop, I will be presenting one of two manuscripts on the subject of a North Korean music ensemble which I drafted over the winter break with a colleague in Kyoto/Beijing, the professor of Japanese political science, Pekka Korhonen.

A description of the event, to be held at the University of Toronto on 8 March, follows:

The developmental trajectories of North and South Korea have shaped the contours of each country’s contentious political environment. This workshop, sponsored in part by the Centre for the Study of Korea (at the University of Toronto), consists of two groups and four panelists exploring contentious politics in both Koreas.

Dr. Adam Cathcart (University of Leeds) and Christopher Green (Leiden University) will present work on contentious politics in North Korea during the Kim Jong-un era, focusing on the government’s use of information strategies, namely “re-defector” press conferences and the Moranbong Band, to maintain a “domain consensus” (i.e., its legitimacy). Data from structured interviews conducted with North Korean defectors will show the full loop: how information channel from the top-down is consumed and reproduced from the bottom-up.

Two professors from the University of Toronto, Drs. Jennifer Chun and Judy Han, will jointly present their latest collaborative work on cultures of protest in the South Korean labor movement. The presentation will examine a new pattern of popular contention in Korean workers’ already radical repertoire of collective action: the prolonged embodiment of emotional, physical, and financial hardship by precariously-employed workers. In particular, we analyze forms of protest with strong expressive elements: religious and spiritual rituals such as head shaving ceremonies, fasting, and the Buddhist atonement ritual samboilbae (translated as three steps and a bow) as well as long-term occupations of symbolic sites such as construction cranes, church bell towers and building rooftops. By examining how workers dramatize precarity, we seek to develop a more systematic analysis of the relationship between the cultural politics of injustice and the changing world of work and employment under neoliberal developmental regimes.

The panel will be moderated by Steven Denney. More information about the event, including bios of the presenters, can be found here.

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