Friday, December 17, 2010

The Migrant Trade Union's latest struggle

This pressure has increased recently in the wake of activities MTU carried out to protest the death of a Vietnamese migrant worker who fell from a second story window in the course of an immigration raid. On November 5, MTU and other organizations held a press conference concerning the incident in front of the Seoul Immigration Office, after which participants made a protest visit to the immigration authorities to ask them to take responsibility for the death. President Catuira participated in these activities. Shorty after, on November 23, President Catuira received a summons from the Immigration Service telling him he must appear before the Immigration Service’s investigation team before December 3 to be investigated based on “suspicion of violations of the Immigration Control Law in the course of applying for a workplace transfer and with relation to actual performance of work duties at present.” Inquiry by a lawyer working with MTU has revealed that the investigation team is also planning to raise suspicions that President Catuira is conducting political activities of a nature prohibited under immigration law. If the investigation team finds against President Catuira, he will lose his visa and become immediately deportable.
Via the Migrant Trade Union's website, I've noticed that the immigration authorities are now targeting its president, Michel Catuira, by attempting to get his employment contract terminated for engaging in 'political activities.' You can read the MTU's recent letters and appeals to the UN and ITUC (quoted above) for more background on the case and on the persistent violation of labour and human rights that the MTU fought so valiently against since it was founded almost 10 years ago. I might add that even though the Seoul High Court declared back in 2007 that the government must recognize the MTU, but this has still not happened. And in this case the lack of legal recognition of the MTU is one among many important factors. Sad how there is so much energy put into monitoring and repressing politicized migrants, and little into fixing the immigration system so that senseless tragedies, like the death of Trinh Cong Quan, mentioned above, continue to this day.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

An Urban Theory of Korean Democratization?

The struggle of 2008 is similar to the struggle of 1980, in the point that it demanded the dignity of life. But it is similar to the struggle of 1987, in the point that it was led by the community of production and living [note: I think JJH means 'of the 'lifeworld'' or for 'freedom in everyday life' here]. However, the community of production, which emerged politically in 2008, was an information-based, cognitive, and non-material community based on the metropolis, rather than the factory which was based on material activities . In this context, the struggle of 2008 is a new type of struggle originating from circumstances where financial, natural and social lives overlap with communal production.

In this struggle, the conflict between the central intelligence powers, which placed combat police and SWAT teams at the head, and the constituent power, organized by collective multitude intelligence sources, appeared radically in some ways, and was quite humorous. The constituent power mocked the ‘Myungbak Fortress’, singing the song of ‘Article 1 of the Constitution’ which defined that ‘All power of Korea come from the people’.... Unlike guns in 1980 and Molotov cocktails in 1987, words (language) circulated through various information mechanisms, becoming the tools for accessing the multitude...

I'm excited to see that Joe Jeong Hwan has put a list of his writings that have been translated into foreign languages. Included is a synopsis of his book, The Common City, which I've discussed on this blog in the past. In the synopsis, you can see that what Joe seems to be providing is something of an urban theory of the democratic activism, or, in Negrian terms, of the multitude as a spatialized, urban phenomenon that is informed by changes in the urbanization of capital -- from import to export-based industrialization and the development of factory districts, to the knowledge economy policies of Roh Moo Hyun and the capital city-centric mega-development policies of the current conservative regime. These movements of the multitude for greater democratization are conceived as reactions against capital's orderings of everyday urban life, reactions which utilize the very skills and capacities that have been produced through capitalist development in order to posit an alternative use of commonality, or common potential. Exciting stuff, unfortunately, Joe's works and that of other cognate thinkers such as the Suyu group, seems to get passed over by urban studies and critical geography as there is a lack of good translations of their work and because it is produced at a distance from established university disciplines, which are, to a large part, still rather conservative in orientation at a number of Korean universities with the exception of innovate programs at school like Sungkonghoe, KNUA, etc... Anyways, hoping that translations like these continue to appear.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Chun Tae Il, 40 years later

One thing I really respect about key currents within the Korean labour movement is their support for migrant and irregular workers. So, for example, the 40th anniversary of Chun Tae Il's death (an act which catalysed the democratic trade union movement) includes a discussion by labour activists past and present, including activists from the Migrant Trade Union. This broadens the history of the democracy movement to include workers in the present moment. Even if they are not national citizens or workers in core firms, they get to be included in the history of democratic struggle.

The focus on the Chun Tae Il era also brings us back to the labour history of the 1970s, where it was not the blue-collar men leading the movement, but women workers and labour activists, like Chun Tae Il's mother and sister, in the garment industry. This kind of historical scrutiny can help the movement think more about how the present and the past intersect, revealing some of the neglected spaces of the present labour movement. This is a necessary exercise as the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions seems to be becoming more aligned around the interests of regular workers at large firms. Furthermore, events such as these connect politicians that articulate their legacy in relation to Minjung martyrs like Chun Tae Il to current labour and social movement struggles like that of migrant workers, the urban poor, and other struggles for diversity and equality. You can see from the graphics of next week's Chun Tae Il events and from the diverse speakers' list (if you can read Korean) that commemorate events such as these are as much about the present as they are about that past. This should alert us to a continued push for more democratization as well as the sense that these different struggles in the present should still be considered as vital parts of a comprehensive social movement; parts that need to be articulated together, rather than left to fragmentation. The difference here is between a notion of civil society as an ensemble of private actors, separately pursuing personal and sectoral interests, versus a notion of civil society as a comprehensive, social movement, which is more in keeping with the notion of civil society embraced by the groups and organization that emerged from the Korean Democracy Movement.

[UPDATE] The Hankyoreh has run a few stories on the 40th anniversary here, here, and here.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Political Space and the Korean Thermidor

[Update: This paper was finally published, in an extended and revised form, in the journal Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. You can find a copy of it here]

Lately, I've been making short presentations based on a long essay I wrote called A Korean Thermidor? Essentially, I've been drawing out different parts of the argument, trying to understand how we might interpret conservative reaction in South Korea in an expansive conceptual and empirical sense. Anyways, the essay itself probably won't come out for a long time, due to the slow pace of academic publishing, but in the meantime here is the rough script I used for my last presentation, part of the panel Critical Geographical Readings on Post-Colonial Korea at this year's Kyujanggak Korean Studies Symposium, with diagrams! Further, it is a timely topic given the continued targeting of reformers, even centrist ones, by the Korean right, who seem to embrace the same analytical obfuscations that the American right uphold and use to obscure any Keynesian, social democratic, or socialist criticism or policy as a chimera, a fictional monster, rather than acknowledging these competing positions for what they are: rational prescriptions for social equality, political space, and economic reform.

On Political Space: Democratization and the Korean Thermidor

My presentation today has developed accidentally. My doctoral work was concerned with understanding economic reform in South Korea from the perspective of how it was influenced by the nexus between the state and social movements that came out of the democracy movement. I was very critical of many of the coordination problems between reform groups as well as the role of nationalism and neoliberalism amongst some reformers. However, since the election of Lee Myung Bak this very space has been targeted by the state, with the consequence that, for the last few years I’ve been trying to keep track of the many changes to the policies of the reform government and the way in which the political spaces of the reform bloc have been target by conservative forces.

Pursuing this line of inquiry has caused me to look for theories that can better explain the politics of reaction. This has led me to the work of Alain Badiou and others. Badiou’s understanding of politics, political sequences, and reactions against them (what he calls thermidorian politics), I think, can provide some provocative insights into geographical inquiry. However, I claim, they need to be anchored to an expansive conception of political space. So what I am going to do here is to attempt to explain a little bit about what this notion of political space might look like and discuss it in light of Badiou’s notion of the thermidor and the politics of conservative reaction in South Kore – which, I argue, is a reaction aimed at making the sense of popular agency associated with democratization illegible; the sources of which exist both inside and outside the reform bloc itself.

I’ll start them by reviewing some of the politics of reaction before jumping into the theoretical interpretation. Since the election of Lee Myung Bak there has been a severing of the institutional nexus between the Korean state and reform-oriented civil society that was established by the Korean democracy movement and reform governments of Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun (from roughly late 1997- early 2008). The Ministry of Gender Equality, which expanded under the reform period, has lost most of its budget and mandate; the National Human Rights Commission has been restructured and its powers decreased; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, largely defunded. Parachute appointments and political dismissals have taken place across arts and culture as well as state broadcasters and communications commissions. The National Security Law has been used to intimidate social movements for reunification and social equality, and state funding for NGOs has been denied to any NGO taking part in “illegal” public demonstrations, meaning the candlelight demonstrations in 2008: over 1842 social and civic organizations in this category, from Women’s help lines to economic policy NGOs.

This reaction has been articulated as an attempt to cleanse the state of the ‘leftist’ legacy of reform governments. The term ‘leftist’ here is obscure. The conservative political bloc around Lee Myung Bak have created a chimera (or fictional monster) of what they see as the Korean liberal-left: the reform bloc that emerged from the democracy movement. This monster considers both reunification and neoliberal reform as excesses of left-nationalism. I want to argue that this material and symbolic obstruction of democratic politics constitutes an example of what Alain Badiou has called Thermidorean politics: that is, a determined effort to end or obstruct a political sequence by obscuring it or making its demands, broad principles, or historical trajectory illegible, preventing lessons from being abstracted from it, good or bad. As Badiou states,
To make a period illegible is much more than to simply condemn it. One of the effects of illegibility is to make it impossible to find in the period in question the very principles capable of remedying its impasses. If the period is declared to be pathological, nothing can be extracted from it for the sake of orientation, and the conclusion, whose pernicious effects confront us every day, is that one must resign oneself to disorientation as a lesser evil. Let us therefore pose, with regard to a previous and visibly closed sequence of the politics of emancipation, that it must remain legible for us, independently of the final judgement about it.
~Alain Badiou, The Courage of the Present. Le Monde. February 2010

So, in Badiou’s understanding, there is something to be learned from a hard analysis of political sequences, of both right and left, and that the legibility of their political demands is part of political struggle.

Historically, the Thermidor denotes the reaction against the radical phase of Jacobin rule during the French Revolution. This reaction, which was actually carried out by former Jacobites themselves, was aimed at diluting, through force and through rendering illegible, many of the egalitarian demands of the Jacobite and popular movements. This reaction was based on transforming revolutionary ‘virtue’ to loyalty to the state, paving the way for more hierarchical social divisions to be implemented. Badiou calls this the statification of the French revolution. Badiou is not necessarily endorsing the revolutionary violence of the Jacobin revolution, here; rather, he argues that politics always involves a disruption of social space and that it is important to learn from the demands and prescriptions the inform this disruption. The notion of the thermidor then, is an generic attempt to understand moments in which popular ‘virtue’ become transformed from a sense of radical popular participation to a more confined sense of patriotic loyalty.

I would say that a geographical conception of political space needs to include some of the temporal aspects of politics that we see here in the concept of the Thermidor. However, in geography, the term political space is more often used as a short-hand for the state, or territorial politics than it is for the kind of disruptive and strategic challenge to social space that one finds in popular social movements such as the Korean democracy movement. While Lefebvre, whose work is foundational for much of critical geography, argued that “Space is political” – I quote: “Space is not a scientific object removed from ideology or politics; it has always been political and strategic,” he claims – in political geography lefebvre’s understanding of the political here is often simply used to connote state space. However, Lefebvre’s interest in popular forms of political agency in everyday life and everyday space, so I think a more expansive definition is necessary.

This critique of political geography is also in keeping, also, with calls for a more flexible understanding of political society in East Asia. Kuan-Hsing Chen (Civil Society and Min-Jian), for example, argued in a recent essay in Cultural Studies that the distinction between state and civil society is too simplistic. He sees the Gramscian notion of bloc politics as an improvement, but argues that the notion of ‘blocs’ can lose site of other social struggles that exist independently of state power or are not co-articulated with a hegemonic bloc. In the East Asian context, Chen thus speaks of an additional sphere of min-jian or people’s sphere as the space of political society, which is both articulated with and autonomous from hegemonic politics [see diagram]. One sees a similar logic in the work of Cho Hee Yeon and other Korean scholars interested in conceptualizing both everyday social regimentation and general state-society relations. I support this interpretation, but I think a problem here is that one can fall a little too easily into a binary contrast between the ‘people’s sphere’ and the sphere of the state and civil society, so a more general definition of political space is necessary.

The Chinese New Left intellectual Wang Hui, provides a clearer definition of the political as concerning ‘power and interest’ and ‘active subjectivity and human agency.’ One can easily spatialize this definition to talk about spaces of power and interest, and spaces of human agency and active subjectivity. To understand a political sequence as a spatial process involves an effort to think of the spatial practices whereby spaces become political --that is, to think how particular spaces are brought into relations of power and interest or are challenged and reconfigured by practices of human agency and active subjectivity. It is through a dialectical tension between both senses here – a tension that is realized in relations of conflict, coordination, mobilization, resistance, representation -- that space becomes political.

The temporal aspect, the focus on sequences of politics, is the element that I think geographers can best learn from – as long, I suppose, as historians don’t object to such annexation of time. So, in the remainder of my presentation I’m going to be focusing on the temporal aspects of Badiou’s understanding of political sequences. For Badiou, a political sequence emerges from an event that disrupts a social situation in terms of its ordering of space. Badiou regards politics as a procedure suited to understanding the latent possibilities of an event: and a political sequence is thus a series of attempts to understand the event and to reshape the political situation based on this understanding. In other words, for Badiou events are constitutive of political subjectivity. A key virtue of politics, then, is fidelity to the logical consequences of an event. In Badiou’s terminology, fidelity is a relation that binds a subject to an event, and thus to other subjects. It is a virtue that is all too easily corrupted.

While Badiou’s personal fidelity may be to understanding the ‘postevental’ consequences of the event of 1968, for the Korean left it is the events of 1980s that constitutes their current practice. The spaces they disrupted were none other than the state’s developmentalist policies and the conservative hegemony of the old regime. It was the spaces of exportist industrialization, Cold War anticommunism, and militarized masculinity that were temporarily broken. In the events of the 1980s, a feeling of rupture was experienced, one that opened politics, and pointed to the possible. Democratic events such as May 68, or the June Uprising reveal the gerneric potential for political participation. They expand prevailing conceptions of political space: thus, their potential lies in a truth or a feeling of generic equality – the sense that a wide amount of people have the potential to participate in politics. It is this sense of equality that politics, in the Badiouvian sense, interrogates and uses to create new political spaces or challenge existing ones. In this sense, politics, for Badiou, is always based on the (eternal) truth of an event (all have a capacity to participate), and a procedure based on verifying how it might be materialized in the current situation. One can see similar themes in recent work by Korean intellectuals such as Joe Jeong Hwan who looks at the way in which new senses of commonality are created in events such as the Kwangju Uprising and the Candlelight protests of 2008.

This is relatively new terrain for critical geography, but similar understandings of political space have applied by spatial scholars in other disciplines. For example, Kristen Ross (2002) has dealt at length with the effects of events such as mass uprisings on social space. She describes how events such as uprisings and general strikes allow, “if only for an instant, the exploration of other possible lives, a vast unexplored area of possibility.” Ross’s understanding of politics here is not simply confined to actually-exisiting democratic processes but is an attempt to show how politics is constituted by a rupture or a gap within the power to rule. This resonates with the work of both Badiou but especially Jacques Rancierre who argues that politics does “not simply presuppose the rupture of the 'normal' distribution of positions between the one who exercises power and the one subject to it. It also requires a rupture in the idea that there are dispositions 'proper' to such classifications” (Rancierre 2001 Thesis 3). For Ranciere, this notion of politics is specifically opposed to what he calls the police. “The police is a 'partition of the sensible' [le partage du sensible] whose principle is the absence of a void and of a supplement” [thesis 7, Rancierre 2001], whereas democratics politics is a process of naming this void and challenging its exclusion.Thus democracy for these scholars is a dialectical sequence not only of governance but also of resistance to forms of rule that partition social space into set orders – which is similar to my defintion of political space above.

The last point I’d like to make is that this partition of the political space, to which democratic politics is constituted, is a feature both internal and external to political sequences undertaken by social movements. The failure of social cooperation policies under DJ and Roh Moo Hyun, as well as a number of their neoliberal policies could be regarded as part of the thermidor in that they also create partitions in political space. The Thermidor is also a major strategic problem for the internal coordination of reform forces.

I’d like to conclude then by advocating for continued engagement between critical geography and political events in South Korea such as the 1987 protests. These are themes that were of interest to an earlier generation of Korean studies scholars like Nancy Abelmann and Kenneth Wells, and, hopefully, with the expansive notion of political space that I’ve articulated here, I think there is room for a new round of critical work that interprets the democratic events and their effects on the current conjuncture.

Copyleft, Jamie Doucette 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

In Seoul

I'll be making a short presentation at this event on Thursday. I think it is open to the public.

The Third Kyujanggak International Symposium

Date 27-28 August, 2010
Venue Kyujanggak Institute for Korean Studies, Seoul National University and
Sinyang Humanities Hall

Session 1 (14:00 - 17:00) Sinyang Hall Seminar Room

Chair Park Bae Kyun

Topic: Critical Geographical Readings on Post-Colonial Korea

1. The Chaebol and the Development State: Cold War Geo-Political Economy and the Disciplining of Korean Capital
Jim Glassman (UBC)/Choi young Jin(SNU)
2. Contested identities in post colonial Incheon City
Ryu je hun (Korea National University of Education)
3. Beyond the Postcolonial National: Migrant Workers in Urban Public Spaces of Seoul
Kim Young Hyun (Ohio University)
4. A Korean Thermidor? Political Space and Democratization in South Korea
Jamie Doucette (UBC)
5. Why has Korean regionalism been criticized as premodern?
Kim Dong Wan (University of Seoul)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Labour Geography

I have a chapter in this new book on labour geography. I haven't seen the final edit yet, but it is now published. My chapter is a theoretical one about reconciling geographical theories of the 'spatial fix' (solutions to problems of overaccumulation) and Gramscian/poststructural approaches to labour activism sensitive to the contingency of political power relations. I ground this in a discussion of the failure of social partnership policies in South Korea. Here is some info on the book:

Missing Links in Labour Geography

Addressing a number of 'missing links' in the analysis of labour and its geographies, this volume examines how theoretical perspectives on both labour in general and the organizations of the labour movement in particular can be refined and redefined. Issues of agency, power and collective mobilizations are examined and illustrated via a wide range of case studies from the 'global north' and 'global south' in order to develop a better and fuller appreciation of labour market processes in developed and developing countries.

Contents: Part I Introduction: Re-engaging with agency in labour geography, Ann Cecilie Bergene, Sylvi B. Endresen and Hege Merete Knutsen; Labour geography: where have we been, where should we go?, Andrew Herod; Re-embedding the agency of labour, Neil M. Coe and David C. Jordhus-Lier. Part II The Agency of Unions: The entangled geographies of trans-national labour solidarity, Andy Cumbers and Paul Routledge; Exploring the grassroots' perspective on labour internationalisms, Rebecca Ryland; Navigating a chaotic consciousness in the trade union movement, Ann Cecilie Bergene; Schumpeterian unionism and 'high road' dreams in Toronto's hospitality sector, Steven Tufts; Trade unions as learning organizations: the challenge of attracting temporary staff, Dorit Meyer and Martina Fuchs; Union power and the formal-informal divide, Gunilla Andrae and Björn Beckman. Part III Politics of Labour: Between revolutionary rhetoric and class compromise: trade unions and the state, Herbert Jauch and Ann Cecilie Bergene; The constitutive inside: contingency, hegemony and labour's spatial fix, Jamie Doucette; Theoretical approaches to changing labour regimes in transition economies, Hege Merete Knutsen and Eva Hansson; Between coercion and consent: understanding post-apartheid workplace regimes, Ola Anders Magnusson, Hege Merete Knutsen and Sylvi B. Endresen. Part IV Labour and Strategies of Capital: Erosion from above, erosion from below: labour, value chain relegation and manufacturing sustainability, Michael Taylor and John Bryson; Globalization and the reworking of labour market segmentation in the Philippines, Niels Beerepoot; 'We order 20 bodies': labour hire and alienation, Sylvi B. Endresen. Part V Conclusion: Approaches to the social and spatial agency of labour, Ann Cecilie Bergene, Sylvi B. Endresen and Hege Merete Knutsen; Index.

'An energetic and creative intellectual project, labour geography has repeatedly broken new ground. This lively collection features many of the project’s new voices, pushing the boundaries again, and critically revisiting basic questions of agency, power and politics in sites from North to South.'
Jamie Peck, University of British Columbia, Canada

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The Chaebol and Uneven Development

From Hankyoreh 21 (the Hankyoreh's biweekly? magazine), there are two articles on the uneven effects of the financial crisis on Korean firms. The large Chaebol, such as Samsung and Hyundai, it seems, are doing very well, with high profit margins and revenue growth. The small and mid-size subcontractors that supply them are not. This is not necessarily a new thing. Korea has myriad levels of subcontracting firms, and most of this (I once heard that it was up to 80% of their production, but there is no official number that I know of) is subordinated to supplying the chaebol. So it is no wonder that the big firms are able to keep them in a subordinate relationship. As the second article in the series points out, "small and medium-sized businesses account for 99 percent of all companies and 88 percent of total employment, but [have a profit margin of just] 2 percent of profits in subcontractor deals with major companies." I would add that within this subcontracting system there are also many companies that are part owned by the chaebol, which creates a form of disguised subcontracting: ie, firms subcontracting to themselves to get around unions, taxes, and other regulations. The irregular workers' strike aimed at POSCO back in 2006 was an example of a strike against this form of subcontracting.

When I was doing my research back in 2006/2007 I interviewed a number of reformers connected to the Roh regime and to economic reform groups about the chaebol. While a number of them criticize the chaebol for dominating the economy and want to promote small and mid-size businesses (the current prime minister Chung Un-Chan once compared the chaebol are like old dinosaurs), the fact that most of these small firms are primarily oriented toward supplying the chaebol raises a problem. There was no coherent solution to deal with this issue at the time and reformers seemed divided between shareholder value reform (to break up family-control over affiliate firms), industrial policy, taxation reform, and strategic asset management of the kind done by the Hasun fund (a kind of nationalist ethical fund). I guess the idea here was that by breaking up the Chaebol or using industrial policy and state intervention the state could create a more equitable relation across industry (or, in the case of more progressive taxation, siphon off some of that profit and redistribute it). Unfortunately, no coherent plan emerged (chapters 3 and 4 of my dissertation and my recent Journal of Contemporary Asia piece deal with the problem to some extent, both are linked here).

I would say that another way that reform forces such as the labour movement have tried to deal with the Chaebol is through labour struggle around wage rates and working conditions in subcontracting firms. Here there has been mixed progress through both industrial unionism and through activist campaigns targeting the labour standards at chaebol affiliated firms. On the latter note, the Hankyoreh has a profile of Lee Jong Ran, an activist fighting for bereaved victims of occupational illness at Samsung's semiconductor plants.

On an unrelated note, I've always liked the format that bookforum's omnivore blog uses to post links of stuff they've been reading under a common theme. So, I'm going to start doing the same.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Into the breach

For the 60th anniversary of the Korean war, the Hankyoreh has published some recently discovered photographs by Lim In-sik. You can view them here and here. I'm not normally one to publish much on this period, since Matt does such a good job at it and my interests are more contemporary. But the picture above, of the floating bridge across the Han really struck me, so I'd thought I'd share.

The legacy of the Korean war, especially the afterlife of cold war anti-communism and its chilling effects on domestic politics is something I've been writing about a little more these days (more on that later). Particularly, the way that a Chimera of communism has been used to condone crimes against South Koreans. On that note, there is a moving piece also in the Hankyoreh about Kim Gwang-Ho, president of the National Korean War Surviving Family Members' Association. Kim's father and grandfather were victims of state violence. His grandfather, a nationalist from the March 1st movement, executed by rightist youth during the Korean war; his father, a wealthy citizen who, in 1960, reburied victims of rightist massacres during the war, only to incur decades of torture and harassment.

Grim reading. Part of the rhetoric of the story reminds one of the red baiting rhetoric employed by members of the conservative government:

When Kim’s father asked the prosecutor, “What crime is it to bury my father’s remains?” the prosecutor reportedly replied, “It is a crime to bury Reds.” In January 1962, Kim’s father was sentenced to seven years in prison by the revolutionary court, and he was released two years and seven months later.

After that, Kim’s family began to collapse. The released father, perhaps because of the aftereffects of torture, was unable to do difficult work. Kim and most of his seven brothers and sisters were unable to attend high school. One older sister was divorced for being from a “Red family.” The pain continued for another decade afterwards. Whenever any espionage incident took place, large or small, Kim’s father was dragged off and returned half-dead.

“We get a call from some place at the market merchants’ association where we worked,” Kim recalled. “They say, ‘He’s out.’ So the whole family takes a taxi from Busan’s Oncheonjang to Nampo-dong and races over. We find our father sprawled out somewhere in the harbor, wrapped in a straw mat. We went through that more than twenty times.”

Though times have changed, the survival of this kind of political discourse is still a great problem. I think it is, however, largely ineffective these days, but it still does damage. Politicized prosecutions, national security law investigations against dissidents, and a general fear mongering in politics are how it is manifested. And yet, this doesn't seem to win elections and only seems to placate that frenzied fragment of the old right that valorize the Park Chung Hee regime. Though, it should be mentioned that the new right tries to label the economic policies of the liberal left and even shareholder value reformers (neoliberal corporate governance reformers, in other words) as 'red' or 'leftist' policy in a similar attempt to obscure and make a monster out of public criticism. And, in my mind, this is a more serious afterlife of a statist nationalism antagonistic toward civil society. Even more saddening when you hear comments like "which country are you from?" from the supposedly moderate prime minister, in response to doubts raised about the recent Cheonan sinking.

This is not to say that one cannot criticize NGOs like any other interest groups according to the logic of their claims, but to make their exercise of speech itself the problem, and to stigmatize and threaten them with the national security law, returns civil society to a politics of voluntary subordination to the national state, a silencing of dissent, and an erasure of civil rights. It also overstates rational risks to national security by attempting to create, since none of this has been successful at a popular level, an inflated sense of internal and external risk. Unfortunately, even though it doesn't seem to sway public opinion -- who, let's face it, care more about the World Cup at the moment than North Korea -- this kind of politics perpetuates political and economic structures badly in need of further democratic reform. Especially at the level of the prosecution, corporate governance, labour relations, urban development, and inter-Korean engagement.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Links, Links, Links

I've finally gotten around to updating, well, really just fixing, the links on the left side of this blog. There were a lot of sites that had expired in the years since I began the blog. So, an update was overdue. I've also inserted a few more links that really needed to be included. However, there are still a number of blogs, organizations, and whatnot that would complement the site. So if you have any suggestions, please comment!

Monday, May 24, 2010

Freeters, Migrants, Samsung

As I get back to posting on a more regular basis, I'm going to make a few large summaries of issues that I haven't followed for a while. So, starting with contemporary labour issues, here is a string of links:

The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MEST) has dismissed 134 public school teachers for being indicted, along with other civil servants, by prosecutors on charges that included membership in the minor opposition Democratic Labor Party (DLP). Korean teachers cannot join political parties. South Korea has not ratified ILO Convention 87, on Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise, or ILO Convention 98, on the Right to Organise and Collective Bargaining. This has led to calls by the ILO for Korea to improve labour standards.

The government is expanding its crackdown on undocumented migrant workers in advance of November's G20 summit. You can read more on the recent history of the migrant movement here.

Samsung has come under a lot of criticism lately not only for possible collusion with government prosecutors but also because of the high incidence of cancer among its workers. Activists protesting the death of another young Samsung worker were recently arrested. Stop Samsung has more on the high rate of blood cancer among young Samsung workers.

One out of 10 Korean workers was found to be paid less than the legal minimum wage, according to a recent survey. South Korea's gender wage gap was also found to be the highest in the OECD, as was the number of industrial accidents (though there may be some issues of reporting standards here).

The KWWA has been protesting the low wages that 'interns' receive, as has a newly formed Youth Union based on the Japanese Freeter movement (picture). That's all for now.

The politics of minority

Yet more Korean social thought. The Politics of Minority (English summary) was the first of Suyu Noma's Bookzines and contains some interesting articles. It is from 2007/2008 and has elements of a postdevelopment critique of Korean progressive thought. Remember that this was the time when Sonjinhwa (joining the advanced countries) ideology was gaining popularity, and Roh's regime had deepened its neoliberal turn. The editors attack what they see as a stage-ist theory of democracy and development that subordinates human and other forms of life to market and state forces, highlighting the struggles of migrant workers, disabled citizens, and the diverse ecology of Saemangum, among other 'minorities.' They have published a few other issues since then, and I'm curious if they've yet to expand their notions of alter-revolution and commune-ism to forms of economic practice. It seems to be one of the loopholes of their broader oeuvre: while they have reimagined political democracy, I've not seen much from them on economic democracy. I think they would embrace a position similar to JK Gibson-Graham, judging from some of their political commitments and the structure of their commune or 'research machine' as they call it.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Korean financialization

I noticed via Wallflower that there is a new book out called, roughly, 20 years of financial (portfolio development) rage in Korea. I think the title of WF's post, 20대 꼬붕론 , means 20-year bender, but I'm not sure (translation anyone?). It would be interesting to find out what the perspective of the book is, i.e. how critical of the process of financialization it is.

On a related topic, I got a book a last year called, Korean Society and Strategies for Rebuilding the Left (also a rough translation), which features interviews with Ha Joon Chang and essays on finance by a number of the intellectuals associated with Tae-an Yeondae (the Alternatives Network), some of whom have joined some of the sessions I've organized in the past on financialization, neoliberalism and (formerly) developmental states.

Some other recent writing on finance would also include Jeong Seong Jin's essay: The Korean Developmental State: From Dirigisme to Neoliberalism. I make similar arguments but with a bit of different, perhaps more relational, perspective, in my dissertation. I have a few chapters there about financial policy and debates about financial restructuring among the Korean liberal left. I'm interested in updating this material so it is always interesting to see new material coming out.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Common City

While updating some of my links and writing the last post, I noticed that Jo Jeong Hwan has a new book out called The Common City (you can buy it here). Jo Jeong Hwan's thought is similar to autonomia, and this book seems to be about popular events in urban space such as the Kwangju Uprising and more recently the Candlelight Protests of 2008. This book is probably of particular interest to critical geography and urban studies; however, it is interesting to note that those disciplines themselves, in Korea at least, do not produce texts like these. It seems that it is the more independent writers, with only very loose academic affiliations (in various informal 'institutes' or 연구소) that seem to write this stuff.

Korean Poststructuralism Pt. 2

While reading blogs by Korean academics recently -- I'm trying to find how certain debates on development, modernity, and civil society have played out in recent years -- I stumbled across Lee Taek Kwang's blog. He seems to write about the history of critical social thought, and, as an addition to my earlier entry on Korean poststructuralism, I'll repost a CFP he has written for a special issue on Deleuze and the non-West.

CFP Special Issue of Deleuze Studies

Deleuze and the Non-West edited by Alex Taek-Gwang Lee

Is Deleuze a Western philosopher? This question seems to raise a problem that Deleuze studies should properly deal with. If Deleuzian thought belongs to the tradition of western philosophy, in what sense does the non-West regard Deleuze as a philosopher? Philosophy is always related to knowledge which does not privilege understanding. Philosophy is equal anywhere on earth. Since Descartes’ “discovery” that the non-West could think, western philosophy could no longer ignore the presence of the non-West, a philosophical otherness in reality. If philosophy argues the idea of truth, what it needs is to persuade its other. Deleuze recognized the problem of the non-West and suggested a solution with the concept of “geophilosophy.” In What Is Philosophy?, Deleuze , along with Guattari, uses this term for a philosophy of the earth. For Deleuze, thinking is not a matter of the dialectic between subject and object, but rather “the relationship of territory and the earth.” The territory-earth relationship creates the absolute plane of immanence, and Deleuze argues that Greeks invented the plane of immanence for Western philosophy. In this way, we can “speak of Chinese, Hindu, Jewish, or Islamic ‘philosophy’ … to the extent that thinking takes place on a plane of immanence that can be populated by figures as much as by concepts.” According to Deleuze, the plane of immanence is pre-philosophical, in the sense that “it becomes philosophical only through the effect of the concept.” The philosophical is always related to the non-philosophical. This means that philosophy has no internal necessity – Western philosophy is a miracle because it had accidentally encountered the territory of Greece. Therefore, it is not unusual to relate Deleuze with the non-West or place Deleuze in the non-West; rather the very Deleuzian way to speak of Deleuzian philosophy is in relation to the non-Deleuzian. With the above perspective, the special edition of Deleuze Studies seeks papers on Deleuze and the non-West.

Possible topics include but are not limited to the following:

-. The non-Western plane of immanence
-. The non-Western reception of Deleuze
-. Globalisation and Deleuzian Politics in Asia
-. Deleuze as a philosopher of non-Western ethics
-. The translation of Deleuze into non-Western languages
-. Geophilosophical studies of Deleuze
-. Deleuzian concepts and non-Western philosophy

If you would like to contribute to this special issue of Deleuze Studies please contact the issue editor Alex Taek-Gwang The deadline for all submissions is March 2011.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Korea news feed

Back when I was doing this blog more frequently I got into a habit of reposting news stories. Since I don't have time to get into that kind of blogging any more what I've done is put up an rss feed from my delicious account for anything that I categorize as Korea. It is on the right hand sidebar. Though I let my blogging slag over the last year, I've kept my delicious account up to date, so there are lots of resources there for people who are looking. In addition, there is the labourstart Korea feed just below the delicious one, so that will continue to be of interest to those reading up on Korean labour issues.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Korean Thermidor?

The following is the text of a short 20 minute presentation I had read for me at the recent American Association of Geographers conference during a session entitled Postcolonial Korea: Conjunctures and Critical Geographies. I will turn it into something longer and more substantive eventually. In the meantime, enjoy.

A Korean Thermidor?

To make a period illegible is much more than to simply condemn it. One of the effects of illegibility is to make it impossible to find in the period in question the very principles capable of remedying its impasses. If the period is declared to be pathological, nothing can be extracted from it for the sake of orientation, and the conclusion, whose pernicious effects confront us every day, is that one must resign oneself to disorientation as a lesser evil. Let us therefore pose, with regard to a previous and visibly closed sequence of the politics of emancipation, that it must remain legible for us, independently of the final judgment about it.

Alain Badiou, The Courage of the Present, Le Monde, 13 February 2010.


The purpose of this paper is to understand the significance of the current neoconservative regime of Lee Myung Bak in relation to the political sequence of democratic reform undertaken by the Korean democracy movement over the last 20 years. In other words, what does the return of conservative rule mean for Korea’s liberal-left (or reform bloc as I prefer to call it) and their efforts to introduce greater transparency, participation, liberty, and equality into the Korean society and political economy? Using Alain Badiou’s notion of Thermidorean politics, I am interested in a reading of the current moment as a corruption; a corruption that seeks to make the political sequence of democratic reform illegible.[i] For Badiou, “a Thermidorean is essentially politically corrupt – in other words, he exploits the precariousness of political convictions” (130). The Thermidorean revises and re-interprets events, changes their meaning, enlists them to the service of another political project: a political project that is, essentially, the ending of the sequence begun by previous events. It is a containment exercise in which political subjectivity, Badiou remarks, “is referred back to order, rather than to the possibility about that which is latent in a situation, under some maxim or other. This counter-revolutionary swing could be called the statification of political consciousness (132).” For Badiou, statification means a “termination of a politics,” and a coupling between the State and established interests, and this coupling certifies that emancipatory political prescriptions are absent from now on (133).


Since the election of Lee Myung Bak there has been a severing of the institutional nexus between the Korean state and reform-oriented civil society that was established by the Korean democracy movement. The effect here is to limit political space in which criticism of the regime is made and democratic demands articulated. I use the term political space here in two senses: to denote a nexus between state and civil society, and a space of representation in which the exclusions of the regime are voiced.[ii] It is these spaces and the sequences that made them legible that the current regime is focused on making illegible.

To give a short taste of this reaction as it currently stands: the Ministry of Gender Equality, which expanded under the reform period, has lost most of its budget and mandate; the National Human Rights Commission has been restructured and its powers decreased; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission defunded. Parachute appointments and political dismissals have taken place across arts and culture (from the Korean National University for the Arts and independent media organizations (Media Act and Indie Space) to state broadcasters and communications commissions). These changes have occurred even in relatively obscure state institutions like the Korean Institute of Finance and Korea Labour Institute, where even moderate Keynesians have been flushed out. The National Security Law has been used to investigate social movements for reunification and social equality.

History textbooks have been ordered rewritten to clear up “inaccuracies” about the past, especially those that conceptualize modern Korean history as a struggle for national independence. The New Right, who are a curious assemblage of former left-nationalists-cum-statist-politicians-and-economic-libertarians, regards this interpretation as an excessive demand of the “pro-North Left.” They argue that it is wrong to criticize Japan and the US because, in their opinion, without the colonial and post-colonial interventions of these countries Korea would have never developed. The New Right even advocate for an alternative dating of the foundation of the republic, to distance the foundation of the current South Korean state from the peninsula-wide demands of the independence movement. While criticizing the excesses of the left’s ignorance of “the achievements of South Korea in their insistence of first achieving peaceful coexistence,” the New Right praises dictator Park Chung Hee for his contributions to democracy.

Beyond the state apparatus, the majority of state funding for NGOs has dried up and funding has been denied to any NGO supporting “illegal” public demonstrations. Using this criteria, the police have included 1842 social and civic organizations in the latter category, from Women’s help lines to economic policy NGOs, most of whom participated in the candlelight demonstrations against Lee Myung Bak’s conservative policies during the summer of 2008. Meanwhile funding has been diverted to conservative civil society groups belonging to rightist movements (such as anti-communist veterans organizations) which have in the past attacked liberal opposition, and destroyed the alter set up to honour former President Roh Moo Hyun following his death last summer.[iii] These conservative forces paint even the neoliberal policies of the reform governments, such as equity rules and limits on family control within the Chaebol, as “leftist” policy.

What is interesting about this reaction is that it is aimed as painting the whole sequence of democratic struggle from the 1970s and 1980s onward to the liberal-democratic reform governments from 1997-2007 as ‘pro-North leftist.’ This serves to obscure the full set of political relations within this sequence of democratic politics, including the steps taken by reform governments to re-segment social space and to slow the sequence of reform through their own economic policies. Thus, even the neoliberalism of the Kim and Roh governments are mislabeled as policies “imprisoned by old ideology and populism to incite the masses.”[iv] This has the consequence of obscuring the reform period and identifying the periods where more progressive demands were not met by the reform bloc, and where alternative arrangements were possible. In other words, it obscures political difference and makes all democratic demands of the reform period out to be a form of excess.


I want to make the argument that the point of making the sequence of democratic reform illegible is not simply political opportunism but to obscure the rupturing of social space inherent in democratic events and democratic struggles. It is this sense of rupture, foundational to any proper politics (construed as a sense of contesting the problems of existing social structures), that is being made illegible here and is the fear of conservative politicians, even, quite often, those on the liberal left.

To better understand the sense of rupture associated with the democracy struggle it is important to scrutinize the effects of particular events on the democratic transition. I date the political sequence of democratic reform roughly from the events of the June Democratic Uprising and Great Workers’ Struggles of the 1987. These events effected the transition towards representative democracy. However, the roots of these mobilizations extend further back and have their origins in the social movements against the dictatorships of Park Chung Hee (1961-1979) and Chun Doo Hwan (1980-1987).[v] The events of 1987 were not isolated, but, rather, they were dense points within a constellation of many different events.[vi] Not the least of these was the democratic trade union movement of the 1970s and the Kwangju uprising of the 1980 -- these events were a part of the larger build-up to 1987. During this period, the urban space of the city, the space of the export factory, and the peninsula as a whole became a site of social protest. The fleeting moments of change experienced in the events of 1987, and other protests both before and after, are still retained in the memory of many of the participants, and the potentiality for social change that exists here is what, in many ways, continues to threaten the established order.

In the events, the borders of social space, of exportist industrialization, Cold War anticommunism, and militarized masculinity were temporarily broken. At the theoretical level, this feeling of rupture is perhaps best captured by Kristen Ross who has dealt at length with the effects of events such as mass uprisings on social space.[vii] She describes how events such as uprisings and general strikes allow, “if only for an instant, the exploration of other possible lives, a vast unexplored area of possibility.”

In her understanding of democratic events, Ross also touches on the impossibility of tolerating the present moment, the return of status quo politics, after experiencing revolutionary ferment. “When life has been lived differently, and when it seems as though it just might continue to be lived differently, when all this is fading and existence threatens to lapse once again into the dreary routine… how can this possibly be tolerated?” (141), she asks. When a sequence, a moment, is obscured or ‘taken back’ by the forces of order, it is lost, perhaps irretrievably. Ross argues that this is a process that is spatial as much as it is social as “What is lost is not simply the physical space of the occupation but also the act of the momentary taking (prise) of power, the taking of speech, the taking of conscience (141).

The reason why the demands of the democracy movement for egalitarian democracy (and not simply national unification) are dangerous to the conservative order and must be obscured is that the past shows the “people” or the “minjung” (the Korean word for the ‘people’ or the ‘masses’) coming into existence in the actuality of their refusal of the status quo. By making the past illegible, “it is this version of the people that is difficult now to locate.” Thus in conservative discourse the ‘minjung’ is replaced with ‘somin’ (common people), a subject with less agency. But nonetheless, notions of ‘the people’ or the minjung do resurface, in current social struggles, that “unsettle the present, to disturb its forgetfulness,” in opposition to the narratives of both the right and centre-left that seek to confine popular agency to the past. (142) Recent disruptions such as the 2008 ‘made cow’ protests and the mass mourning of Roh Moo Hyun last summer show a return of popular agency of masses, and yet, the interpretation of these events has been to consider them as hysterical moments, and thus defer any question about the demands and potentialities produced in them. During the reform governments, liberal-left reformers were complicit in this process as they also attempted to restore conservative social space through cracking down on labour protests, discouraging industrial unionism, and rolling out neoliberal financial strategies. They too participated in a politics that deferred participation in the name of economic inevitability of market forces, creating empty time in which social struggles were required to wait, patiently and let the economy run its course.


Here we have, in the terminology of Jacques Rancierre, a process of politics as a police operation.[viii] A politics that ignores popular agency by closing off areas of government policy from popular participation and saying “there is nothing here that is happening, move on keep going.” This is the sense of politics as dispersal, and it comes up against politics as an active process of bringing up exclusions and exposing lacunae in the established socio-political order. Thermidorean politics reserves politics for only those that are deemed to have ‘interest,’ such as property developers and the conglomerates, and popular agency is dispersed. Again, the police say, “it is only we who have interest, all you others, go back to your daily lives, there is nothing here.”

The most troubling part of the Korean thermidor is that the politicians active in the reaction to this sequence are not simply those politicians of the right. They are also many former left activists, often of the National Liberation variety, such as Kim Young Hwan, but also from various other factions, such as former Peoples Democracy activist Shin Ji Ho. In France, Badiou notes, the actual thermidoreans of 1794 were not foreign aristocrats, or even Girondins, but were part of the Robespierrist majority in the Convention. So too, the Korean thermidor involves a mismatch of interests, including many former democracy movement activists and various politicians of the liberal-left and the right (Badiou 135). One might say that thermidorean politics shares a lot the sense of righteousness that accompanied earlier factional disputes of the 1980s movement -- and perhaps that is why many of the former ideologues of these debates are now part of the reaction -- but it shares nothing of the sense of possibility of the earlier events.


I want to conclude by suggesting that the Korean thermidor is a particular kind of forgetting, one in which social memories are associated with a chimera of the ultra left. This fiction only serves to keep politics as a police operation where no one asks questions and politics is dispersed, left only to private property and established interest. This obscures thinking about what possible alternatives might have been, and how best to organize an economic that is participatory, egalitarian and democratic. It also prevents us from understanding how democratic demands shape space, obscuring the impasses of past periods and making it difficult to extract lessons that might help us understand the current moment.

[i] Alain Badiou. (2006) Metapolitics. London: Verso

[ii] As Kim Dong Choon has argued civil society (simin sahoe) in Korea is largely concerned with societal transformation and thus the priorities of the democracy movement still continue to inform it. It is not merely a passive sphere of interest group mediation. See Kim, Dong-Choon. (2006) “Growth and Crisis of the Korean Citizen’s Movement.” Korea Journal. Summer 2006, pp. 99-128. See also, Lee, Nam-Hee (2007) The Making of the Minjung: Democracy and the Politics of Representation in South Korea. Ithaca: Cornell University Press. Lee, Nam-hee. (2007) ‘The South Korean student movement: Undongkwon as a

counterpublic sphere’ in Charles Armstrong ed. Korean Society: Civil Society, Democracy, and the State. Second Edition. London: Routledge 95-121. Unless otherwise stated, all Korean names cited here begin with the surname followed by first name of the author.

[iii] See, for example, Hankyoreh, 20 May 2009. “President of KUNA announces resignation due to a “political

audit.” [Accessed 20 May 2009].

Hankyoreh, 21 April 2009. “Subsidies cut to civic groups who participated in candlelight

vigil demonstrations.” [Accessed

May 2009]. Hankyoreh. 14 May 2009. “Police’s irrational response against civil society. “ [Accessed March 2010].

[iv] See the New Right Founding Declaration.

[v] One could also argue that this sequence goes back much further to anti-imperialist period, or the suppression of socialist and even social democratic movements in Korea in the interwar years between liberation and the Korean War.

[vi] Though only momentarily, Lee Myung Bak was also part of the early democracy movement. He was arrested and served four months in prison for leading demonstrations against the normalization of diplomatic ties with Japan in 1964. See Hankyoreh “Who is Lee Myung-bak? A profile of the man of myth and his bid to lead the nation.” 22 September 2007, Accessed 19 March 2010.

[vii] See Kristin Ross. (2002) May ’68 and its afterlives. University of Chicago Press.

[viii] See Jacques Rancierre. (2001) Ten Theses on Politics. Theory and Event. Vol. 5 Issue 3.

Copyleft. Jamie Doucette 2010

Korean Autonomism and Poststructuralism

Picture 1

[Note: this is an older post that I've migrated from my other blog]

After the 1980s in South Korea in general and after the democratic uprising of 1987 and the fall of the Soviet Union in particular, the Korean Left underwent radical changes. One consequence of this transition is that a number of theorists from both the 80s movements and early 90s student movement began to move towards different heretical, anti-authoritarian traditions of social thought. Some embraced more Deleuzian/Foucauldian/Lacanian trajectories while others sketched out a more Autonomia-style form of thought. Of course, there are theorists of many other stripes as well, from Athussarians to Trotskyists, but I'd like to focus on two of these currents here and highlight some of their publications in English.

The Suyu + Trans Research Machine is an intellectual commune led by a number of poststructural thinkers. It is a pretty amazing place. They have managed to run a collective cafe, restaurant, seminar schedule and research institute through membership fees and individual donations. They are also involved in general anti-neoliberal activism emphasizing support for environment and peace campaigns, and support for irregular and migrant workers. They have also translated a lot of poststructuralist thought into Korean and written quite an amount on their own. Here is a article about the establishment of the commune after the political sequence of the 1980s movements began to transform: What do Commune-ists think? Unfortunately you'll need a library proxy to access it, I think.

The Twilight of Empire was a manifesto put out by the Suyu folks around the time of the negotiation of the Korea-US free trade agreement and has political mix of tones from Agamben, Negri, and Deleuze to it. There is criticism of the sovereign exception used in Neoliberalism, and it endorses a political project of mobilizing the multitude, and of minorities widely construed, instead of left nationalism (the dominant left position in South Korea).

Another problem with interpellating nation as the subject of struggle is that it may conceal the disastrous effects of the FTA that is “yet to come,” effects which diverse minority groups in our society are “already” experiencing. The U.S.-South Korea FTA, which seems to have taken us by surprise, has been tailing the young, the disabled, women, migrant workers, non-regular workers, and all the creatures of the tidal flats for a much longer time, under the guise of GDP, market competition, neo-liberalism, and the calculation of economic profits. We must realize that our society has encouraged or neglected the exploitation of these minorities. The unimaginable scale and intensity of disaster that the U.S.-South Korea FTA entails will be the messenger that will inform us that the pain of those minorities that we have overlooked can become our own. Hence, the struggle against the FTA should start not from the nation, but from the minorities, the masses, and the multitude.

A more recent work on a similar theme and written by Goh Byeon-Gwon, a founding member of the commune, is Marginalization vs minoritization: expulsion by the state and flight of the masses. It is also worth a read.

Outside of Suyu, Joe Jeong Hwan and the multitude network center seem to embrace a more classical autonomist perspective and focus on issues of class composition. Joe Jeong-Hwan's article Class Composition in South Korea Since the Neoliberal Economic Crisis (the 1997 one, not the current crisis) was published a few years back in Multitudes Journal, which is open access. Here is an excerpt:

Significantly, the citizen’s movement is having difficulty to define the concept of a ’citizen’. Recently the main current tends to define the citizen as a non-class subject. In contrast, I propose that the ’citizen’ needs to be defined in the context of recomposition of working class accomplished by the industrial restructuring of capital since the 1980s. The industrial restructuration centered upon high-tech and informational industries since the 1980s have figured a different form of labor power. This different form of labor power has acquired a more scientific-technological character and, as a result of it, the school, home, and society have all been transformed into factories of reproduction. We should consider the weakening of the traditional labor movement as the effect of this process. The relative ratio of industrial laborers has been reduced as a result of the diversification of the working class. Therefore, ’citizen’ is but an old label to which have been attached new labor subjects composed of plural and heterogeneous multitudes.

Joe J-H also has a blog in Korean, with some English and Esperanto posts (yes, Esperanto). He has translated a number of Negri's books and has a new book of his own, Literature of Kairos, out now. Too bad these aren't translated into English.

Anyways, if you are curious about different non-nationalist left trajectories of Korean thought, this post should get you started. I might also post in the future about art collectives in South Korea that use situationist or autonomia style tactics, which is a topic I'm planning to write more about some day. Perhaps through a review of the book that came out of this exhibition.

It has been a long time, I know...

(This park is near where I live in Vancouver)

Well, it has nearly been a year since I've posted anything. Let's just say that I've been very busy over the last year writing longer stuff and finishing my PhD (yes, it is finito!). In case you are interested, I have a number of things out/coming out. My dissertation, The Postdevelopmental State: The Reconfiguration of Political Space and the Politics of Economic Reform in South Korea, is an exploration developmental state theory, the liberal left, and the restructuring of Korean political economy, and available here. I also have a piece -- The Terminal Crisis of the Participatory Government and the Election of Lee Myung Bak -- in the Journal of Contemporary Asia on the internal problems of reform politics in Korea (email me through the blog if you'd like a pdf copy). I also have a review of Kevin Grays Korean Workers and Neoliberal Globalization in the same issue. More recently, there is also this article I've written with Rob Prey for Japan Focus -- Between Migrant and Minjung: The Changing Face of Migrant Cultural Activism in South Korea -- about the migrant movement and recent deportations of key activists. So, although I haven't been posting much here, dear readers, I have been busy and writing on topic.

A year or two ago I started another blog, Imperfect Composition. The idea here was to have blog where I could write some random, and I mean random, stuff. Thought-experiments if you'd like. The thing is, I haven't really used it too much. There is one post on a Korea-related topic there, so I will move that over to here. I will also post the text from a short talk I recently gave above, as it may be of interest to some readers. There is also some other stuff coming out in a few months I will put up later.