Beyond Reclaiming Space: Resilience to Ethnic Recentering in South Korea

Conference: The Asian Conference on Asian Studies (ACAS2022)
Title: Beyond Reclaiming Space: Resilience to Ethnic Recentering in South Korea
Stream: Korean Studies
Presentation Type: Live-Stream Presentation
Robert Hamilton, Hankuk University of Foreign Studies, South Korea


In South Korea, nation-building projects have often entailed media-driven narratives that discipline bodies and desires. Transnational flows, however, are increasingly challenging these narratives as the country intensifies its efforts to market its image abroad. The K-wave is no longer flowing in one direction. The commoditization at work often requires broadening national conceptions of “Koreanness” both in conflict with and along racial and alternative sexual lines. Shows such as Itaewon Class and Squid Game, for instance, have shed light on this dynamic. However, these imagined inclusions of Others often fail to translate into cultural transformations that bolster change in the practice of everyday life despite the historical existence of these groups in the country. This exploratory research draws on spatial theory to expand on interpretations of liminal placemaking as a means of connecting and transgressing imagined boundaries of physical space in real-time. Namely, it investigates how non-Koreans reacted to two COVID-related events that moved them from cultural observers to online activists: the outbreak of COVID-19 at a nightclub in Itaewon (a hub for the celebration of non-Korean ethnicity and a controversial transcultural space) and the government's demand for foreign COVID testing. It argues that short format and digital live-streaming media spaces have not only become a new transcultural space for 'foreign' protest but also a crucial liminal space to reframe and expose society’s distorted views of 'foreigners' in South Korea.

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