Perspectives on Contemporary Korea

This annual conference series is intended to encourage and disseminate scholarship emphasizing contemporary issues in Korean Studies. Each conference revolves around a different theme critical to contemporary Korea, and invites scholars--in training as graduate students, at the beginning of their careers, or well-established--to submit work from any discipline or methodology that considers the case of Korea relevant to the theme.

Cultures of Yushin - Fall 2014Faculty organizer: Youngju Ryu (Asian Languages and Cultures)

While understanding the workings of political economy is essential to studies of the
Yushin era, it is important to expand our examination of the period to encompass the question of culture, broadly conceived. Recent scholarship in Korea has begun to examine the dimension of “desire” in addition to the dimension of “repression” inherent in the creation of individual subjectivities as well as in the rise of mass society in the 1970s, interrogating in the process the lasting impact of the period on shaping modern Korean society. In the field of literature, for example, the 1970s was a time during which major literary historical categories surrounding national and class identities were forged in the context of explicit contestation with the authoritarian government. At the same time, the period witnessed the growth of overtly commercial literature that reflected the rise of the market as a vehicle of accommodation to political authority. Rather than subscribe to binary views of the relationship between art and politics, this conference will explore the complexities of this relationship from a number of different perspectives. Building on such new research trends, the Cultures of Yushin conference will bring together scholars from major sites of Korean Studies research in the Anglophone world (including Canada, U.S., U.K., and Australia) with scholars from Korea for an interdisciplinary dialogue on the diversity and complexity of Yushin culture. The scholars’ expertise will range across disciplines of art history, architecture, literature, history, film studies, media studies, musicology, sociology, and women’s studies, reflecting the broad scope of the Yushin framework in the way it authorized, constrained, and otherwise impacted productions in all three realms of high-, middle-, and low-brow cultures.

(Re)-Discovering Sport in Korea: Guts, Glory and Geurimja -- October 2013Faculty organizer: Dae Hee Kwak (School of Kinesiology)

  
Sport is a multifaceted phenomenon that is often utilized as a powerful agent for social and economic development. Individuals, institutions, businesses, and governments have actively leveraged sport to drive significant impact and development in a variety of social, economic, and political contexts in Korea and of Korean sports abroad. Although emphasis on the elite sport system and hosting mega events (e.g., 1988 Seoul Olympics, 2002 FIFA World Cup, and 2018 PyeongChang Olympics) may have contributed to gain significant international recognition and national pride, much less has been scrutinized or documented about the fundamental values, social implications, and complex dynamics of sport in the context of contemporary Korea. How do media representations of sport contribute to Korean nationalistic sentiments? How are sport articulated in cultural products (such as Hallyu)? How does Korea fit into the global promotion—and the reception of that promotion—of martial arts such as Taekwondo? How does/whether policy-setting around mega events widen the disparity between elite and amateur sport? What are the challenges for sport properties and facilities to become more financially viable? What is the current state of players’ association in Korean professional sport industry? What are the effects of scandals such as sport betting and match-fixing on not only the sport industry in Korea, but also on Korea’s national self-image? What important challenges and issues remain for exploration to understand sport’s full potential in making positive and sustainable economic impact and social utilities in Korea?

Taking a multidisciplinary approach, the international conference, (Re)-Discovering Sport in Korea: Guts, Glory, and Geurimja hopes to bring together scholars from across disciplines to address any and all aspects of the phenomenon of sport and the physical culture in contemporary Korea. This conference, sponsored by the University of Michigan Nam Center for Korean Studies, School of Kinesiology, and the Academy of Korean Studies, is not only the first conference to contemplate Korea in the context of sports, but also will be the largest academic gathering in the United States dedicated to various themes around Korean sports. We hope to channel the integrative and cohesive characteristics inherent in sport into this conference to discover—or re-discover—the role of sport in Korea. The goal of this conference is to encourage, support, and showcase research that examines the role of sport in Korea from a multitude of perspectives.

Transgression as a Secular Value: Korea in Transition? -- October 2012Faculty organizer: Juhn Ahn (Asian Languages and Cultures)

    
Crossing over limits, infringing the law, and ignoring convention are often cited as examples of transgression. In traditional Korea where religion played a vital role in demarcating social and personal boundaries, transgressive acts (e.g. engaging in illicit sexual behavior, challenging gender norms, defying social hierarchies, defacing icons and symbols, using excessive violence, etc.) often served as a critical means for testing these boundaries of social acceptability, identity, power, and truth. But what happens to these transgressive acts after the “demystification” and “secularization” of society? Do they become obsolete? If they still test boundaries, then whose boundaries do these transgressive acts test?

Taking cue from the proliferation of successful Korean films that take transgression as their central theme, the international conference, Transgression as a Secular Value: Korea in Transition? hopes to bring together scholars from both the social sciences and humanities to address these and other similar questions about the significance of transgression in modern and pre-modern Korea. The chief objective of this conference is to investigate the possibility of reading the surging interest in transgression, which has arguably attained an air of sacredness in mainstream culture, as an instance of a search for a “secular” value. The conference will therefore encourage its participants to ask, when and how did transgression become so desirable and consumer friendly (and not just possible) in Korea? And, should we associate this attitude towards transgression with “the secular”?

The conference will explore the notion of transgression as a “secular” value from a comparative perspective—both temporal and spatial—to underscore and contribute to the growing debate on the heterogeneous nature of secularity as a way of life.

Hallyu 2.0: The Korean Wave in the Age of Social Media -- April 2012Faculty organizer: Sangjoon Lee (Asian Languages and Cultures)

   
Hallyu (the Korean Wave), a term coined to describe the widespread popularity and regional/trans-regional influence of Korean cultural products, has recently come into its own as a subject of academic inquiry and broad intellectual interest. However, while much attention has been paid to the impact of the Korean Wave on Korea’s national image or domestic economy, as well as its implications for transnational cultural flow, there has been little discussion about the impact of new communication technologies, such as social media.

Hallyu is indeed entering the new age of social media. For the last few years, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Cyworld, and myriad social networking websites have boosted the dissemination of Korea’s popular media contents to regions where the traditional media-- theatrical distributions, TV networks, and DVD/VCD sales-- had never reached before. Korean films, TV dramas and variety shows, online games, comics, and popular songs are now being shared, distributed and consumed in cyberspace at an unprecedented pace.

Hallyu 2.0: The Korean Wave in the Age of Social Media conference sought to comprehend and interpret the meaning of this new and powerful cultural industry. The conference staged interdisciplinary dialogues among scholars of cinema, media, and visual studies, and of area studies and communication studies, by implicating multiple approaches in deciphering the intricate web of contemporary media ecosystems.

    

For other conferences organized by the center, please visit