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Modern Times in North Korea: Scenes from the Founding Years

Suzy Kim, Rutgers University
Suzy Kim, Rutgers University
Friday, March 14, 2014 - 3:30pm to 5:00pm
Mary Gates Hall 242

North Korea is often portrayed in mainstream media as a backward place without a history worth knowing. But during its founding years (1945-1950), North Korea experienced a radical social revolution when everyday life became the single most important arena for experiencing the revolution in progress. Historical accounts across the political spectrum characterize the five year post-liberation period as a period of competing ideologies. But what distinguished these competing visions for Korea's decolonization were not lofty political goals, since everyone advocated independence and democracy, but the minute details of how everyday life should be organized. In that sense, everyday life became the primary site of revolutionary struggle in North Korea, and serves as the most useful theoretical category for understanding the North Korean Revolution in particular, and social revolutions in general, as expressions of a heroic modernist impulse.

Professor Suzy Kim began teaching Korean Studies at Rutgers in 2010 and has previously taught at Emerson College, Boston College, and Oberlin College after receiving her Ph.D. in Modern Korean History at the University of Chicago. Her current research focuses on North Korean social history, looking at changes in everyday life between 1945 after the end of Japanese colonial rule to 1950 before the start of the Korean War. Her research interests include critical theory, gender studies, and oral history.

She is currently working on a manuscript titled Politics of Empowerment: Everyday Life in North Korea 1945-50, examining the immediate post-colonial period of North Korean history from 1945 when Korea was liberated from Japanese colonial rule to 1950 before the start of the Korean War. Focusing on the local people's committees and mass organizations that were spontaneously organized and later centralized, she reconstructs the beginnings of North Korean society through a micro-level study of everyday life, informing more generally the underlying dynamic of how processes of social change come together with processes of ossification in the dialectic between agency and structure.

Event sponsored by the UW Korean Studies Program at the Jackson School of International Studies.