A Sublime Disaster: The Sewŏl Ferry Incident and the Politics of the Living Dead


Thursday, November 14, 2019, 4:30pm to 6:00pm


Thomas Chan-Soo Kang Room (S050), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, MA 02138

Korea Colloquium
11.14 Korea Colloquium Poster

Hyun Ok Park
Associate Professor, Department of Sociology, York University

With archival and ethnographic research, her research investigates global capitalism, empire, transnational migration and disaspora, democracy, and comparative-historical method. She is the author of Two Dreams in One Bed: Empire, Social Life, and the Origins of the North Korean Revolution in Manchuria (Duke University Press, 2005), and The Capitalist Unconscious: From Korean Unification to Transnational Korea (Columbia University Press, 2015). Park is currently completing a book manuscript, “A Sublime Disaster,” which approaches the movement to uncover the truth of the Sewŏl incident as the culmination of two imperative but unexplored strands of 21st-century popular politics in South Korea: the candlelight protests and the politics of life. Hyun Ok Park has been a member of the Institute for Advanced for Advanced Study in Princeton, as well as a recipient of fellowships from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Academy of Korean Studies, and the American Council of Learned Societies. She is Director of the Korean studies institute, Korean Office for Research and Education (KORE), at York University, which is supported by the Core University Program for Korean Studies of the Academy of Korean Studies.

Chaired by Nicholas Harkness, Professor of Anthropology, Harvard University

The poignant expressions — “We are all the Sewŏl ferry” and “We are all sunken deep under the sea” — reveal the Sewŏl ferry’s sinking in 2014 as a metonym of the collective death under South Korea’s crisis-ridden democracy. This talk focuses on the five-year-long occupy struggle to uncover the truth of the disaster in Kwanghwamun Square in Seoul downtown, especially the Yellow Ribbon Workshop and its autonomy from the 416 United that oversaw the occupy site. Although the 416 United credits the workshop with maintaining the participation of individual citizens in the struggle, the workshop remains a mystery to all. I conceptualize the workshop's hand-making and free-sharing of yellow ribbons—the symbol of the disaster—as play that creates equal social relations, breaks the dictatorship of consumption, and organizes life into a festival. While deploying these modern prescriptions to revolutionize the everyday life, workshop participants also take on a rhizomatic character, such as indiscipline, non-cumulative relationship, and cellular participation, without being bound to the 416 United and its goal of regime change. I contrast this play with the dark tourism, and consider it an alternative to the healing industries and culture that have proliferated under neoliberal capitalism.

Generously supported by the Min Young-Chul Memorial Fund at the Korea Institute.