The AKS Project

The AKS Project Research Clusters


1. New Critical Korean Studies: Theory, Method, and Practice

Cluster members: Hyun Ok Park, Michelle Cho, Hae Yeon Choo

For the last two decades, Korean studies programs in North America and Europe have concentrated on creating a space in universities for the study of Korean history and culture. In contrast, this cluster envisions making Korea research a place to explore theoretical and methodological challenges in the humanities and social sciences, and a bridge for crossing the conceptual boundaries between Asia and other regions.

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Specifically, we engage with three topics to explore this new direction in Korean studies: 1) democratic politics, 2) popular culture, and 3) everyday life. We inquire into a new democratic possibility after mass politics (revolution, workers’ strikes) and identity politics, and ask about the viability of critiquing everyday domination and envisaging this critique as a basis for rethinking forms of democratic politics. We will explore the following questions. What is a viable form of democratic politics in the present? With distrust and repudiation of large-scale, mass-based politics of the modern era now prevalent, would a critique of everyday life be capable of creating a viable social change?

Many accounts of new capitalism and its culture abound. Industrial capitalism demanded the separation of public and private, engendering the ideology of a split self capable of moving swiftly between the productive, rational, and Machiavellian interaction to domestic and emotional interaction. In contradistinction, contemporary neoliberal capitalism brings the logic of the market and its fantasy of hyperrationality into the realm of emotion. This cluster aims to investigate new democratic politics which have emerged through the critique of neoliberal capitalism, and examine everyday life that has become once again a redemptive space of resistance today in the neoliberal turn. From the vantage point of this neoliberal present, we plan workshops and research which makes innovative contributions to the study of democracy, culture, and everyday life in South Korea. We will develop transnational, comparative and historical accounts of these changes by bringing scholars in Korean studies together with those in other regions and various disciplines in the proposed workshops.

2. Defining Korean Canadian Studies

Cluster members: Ann H. Kim, Thomas Klassen, Mihyon Jeon, Sonny Cho, Angie Y. Chung, Min-Jung Kwak, Hyunjung Shin

This cluster will define Korean-Canadian Studies and bring together those involved and interested in the Korean diaspora in Canada. Although work on the Korean diaspora and migration goes back roughly 30 years and recent scholarship on Korean migrants in Canada signals the emergence of a new generation of scholars, a cohesive identity with a well-defined collection and network under this umbrella has yet to materialize.

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In Canada, research on the Korean diaspora focuses on stress, entrepreneurship, new destinations, seniors, international students and education migrants, transnational (kirogi) families, and North Korean migrants. However, Korean-Canadian Studies, as a sub-specialty in the social sciences and humanities, is not well-defined, and scholars who work in the area form loose networks with informal links to community, business, and government. Two current developments make this an opportune moment to explore the possibility of defining ourselves in a way that is open, flexible, interdisciplinary, collaborative, and synergistic: the growth in the number of scholars across multiple disciplines in Canada who might identify as working in this area and with whom we can make cross-sector linkages; and a growing body of work on the Korean diaspora in other places, namely the United States and to a lesser extent, Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand, and the UK.

The first development led to an initiative to unite the research efforts of multi-disciplinary scholars in the area of Korean-Canadian Studies without explicitly attaching a label to this work. It resulted in the publication of the edited volume, Korean Immigrants in Canada: Perspectives in Migration, Integration and the Family (eds. Samuel Noh, Ann H. Kim, and Marianne S. Noh, the University of Toronto Press in 2012), and several articles on transnational migrants. The second major impetus for establishing Korean-Canadian Studies is the potential for international collaboration and comparative thought with the three resources: the unique Research Center for Korean Community; the Korean American Data Bank at Queen’s College and the Brill Companion to Korean American Studies to be published in mid-2018. The cluster’s primary objective is to bridge together traditionally distinct and separate spheres: the academic, community, business, and government. Our goals are to define Korean-Canadian Studies, strengthen local networks, and promote internationally the Korean diaspora in Canada. We will achieve these objectives through research and educational activities that encourage connections among the different spheres.

3. Transcultural Pedagogy in Culture and Language

Cluster members: Mihyon Jeon, Ahrong Lee, Yujeong Choi, Kyoungrok Ko, Adrienne Lo, Daehee Kim

The population of students in Korean studies classes in North America has undergone a major shift over the past few decades. While heritage language learners used to comprise the majority of students, the advent of the Korean Wave has brought new kinds of students into our classrooms. Taking this new population of Korean studies students as our primary focus, experts in the spread of Korean media, Korean language and culture education, and transnational South Korea will develop research and pedagogical materials.

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The proposed projects are unique in their emphasis on both research and pedagogy. The cluster will contribute to the expansion of Korean studies in the English-speaking world by developing a strong program of research to investigate the role that these learners lay in the spread of Korean culture across the globe and by developing pedagogical materials to engage such students in Korean language and culture classes. The research program will focus on 1) examining the impact of globalization on the linguistic, social and cultural spread of Korean language and culture; 2) investigating the ways that access to Korean popular culture is facilitated by the labour of bilingual, multicultural brokers and by technology; and 3) analyzing the global media flows that help to spread Korean culture across the globe.

The proposed project will develop innovative e-Textbooks and other teaching materials for meeting the needs of Canadian learners who are interested in Korean culture and language by incorporating Canadian context and culture. The cluster includes educators who have decades of experience teaching such students. The collaboratively produced e-Textbooks and teaching materials will enable educators to customize and to update on the basis of feedback from users. Through the collaborative sharing of lesson plans, materials, and exercises, the e-Textbooks and teaching materials will position Korean studies as a leader in the field of culture education and language pedagogy, which will prepare students to further their education in Korean studies with the socio-cultural sensibility in Canada. The cluster will also pioneer the development of online and blended courses in Korean studies. This aspect of the research will build upon the expertise of Professors Jeon and Lee from York University, who developed the first fully online Korean language course with funding from the Ontario Online Initiative Grant. With the assistance of the AKS grant, the cluster will assist other universities, high schools, and community run language schools in running their own blended learning programs in these areas, which will form an important component of community outreach of this project.

4. North Korea: Translation and Literary, Cultural and Political Transformation in a Global Context

Cluster members: Theresa Hyung, Thomas Klassen, Daniel Pieper

Since the end of the Korean War translators in the ROK have worked on foreign literary works based on both those which had been introduced during the Japanese colonial period as well as a variety of new sources. The functions of translation in North Korea can be understood against the centuries of cultural traditions as well as the nation's colonial background. North Korean literature and culture have not yet been widely studied by international scholars. This cluster will one of the first to consider North Korean translational activities in the context of Korean literary and cultural traditions.

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The focus will be on both the work of translators themselves and the functions of translation in general in order to examine six crucial aspects: The role of North Korean translators in the formation of the socialist society, The relationship between translated and original Korean works, The institutional environment of translators, The comparison of the roles of translation in the two Koreas, The importation of foreign cultural ideas and practices, and the comparison of translational practices in North Korea and China, Vietnam and other socialist countries.

The project has three focuses. One is the study of translation and North Korean children's literature and film with a focus on the periodical "Adong Munhak" (Children's Literature) North Korean government regulations on education, and South Korea studies of North Korean children's literature. The second is the study of gender and translation in North Korea drawing on the history of the New Women (Shin Yosong) movement in the 1920s and 30s, and North Korean publications such as "Choson Yosong" (Choson Women). This cluster project will develop collaborations with scholars of other countries such as Russia, China and Japan. The third focus will investigate translation and interpretation and propaganda / security in North Korea. Key questions include: To what extent is English used as a lingua franca through which Russian, Chinese, Korean and other texts are funneled? Are there attempts to cross check the reliability of texts in agreements in the languages of the parties? Have there been any studies of the agency of translators, not just as transmitters of messages from one language to another, but as essential players in the process?"

5. Resistant and Transformative Politics in Korea: Labor, Social Reproduction and Visual Art

Cluster members: Hong Kal, Laam Hae, Yoonkyung Lee

The recent candlelight protests and mass mobilizations in South Korea were the most decisive factor in the impeachment of former president Park Geun-hye and the indictment of her cronies. At one protest in early 2017 it was estimated that more than one million protesters showed up in downtown Seoul to march and demand the impeachment of the president and the restoration of true democracy in the country. This recent political mobilization is just one example of a several decades-long tradition of resilient resistant politics in Korea.

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The persistent and militant labour mobilization among Korean workers from the 1980s has been the subject of discussions and debates in academia and within activist circles. The emergence of new forms of resistant politics has triggered the revision of the existing paradigms about Korea and stimulated efforts for a new theorization of the Korean society. As an integral part of social movements in Korea, visual contemporary art has undergone, over the last decade in Korea, an important transformation towards more participatory, dialogical, and collective practices for artists, rather than a mere representation of objects. In particular, socially engaged artists and cultural activists have collaborated with people in order to capture social problems and raise critical questions on the effects of visual art on social activism.

This cluster aims to advance knowledge of history and current processes of social movements in South Korea. Members of this cluster will investigate the resistant and protest politics that has emerged in contemporary Korea in the fields of labor, social policies, feminism, and visual art, and will reflect upon the transformative potentials of these politics. The research themes include contentious activism by workers against neoliberal market conditions, urban social movements with a focus on housing, community and gender equality, and new forms of political participation, social activism, and commemorative practices in visual art and culture.

Korea in the World, and World in Korean Studies