"Unification Preparation" in South Korea: The Professional Labor of Preparing for a Future Scenario
Choi, Michelle Hyun
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CitationChoi, Michelle Hyun. 2021. "Unification Preparation" in South Korea: The Professional Labor of Preparing for a Future Scenario. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractIn contemporary South Korea, the concept of "unification preparation" (t'ongil chunbi) has spawned a diffuse web of South Korean institutions - from government agencies, think tanks, media groups, NGOs, churches, to corporations - that are united by the shared mission of preparing South Korea for future unification with North Korea. This dissertation explains how Korean unification has undergone a process of professionalization in 21st century South Korea, resulting in a new professional genre of anticipatory labor referred to as "unification preparation." The anticipation of certain futures - usually futures that threaten national and global future security and economy - can motivate the rise of institutionalized, specialized labor that bring about new professionalized fields of work. In the case of unification preparation, professionalization of Korean unification involves two major re-conceptualizations: in the professional field of unification preparation where Korean unification is engaged through everyday practices of work, unification is no longer just a (near or distant) future event involving nation-states, but also a process that interweaves the national present and future (and the past), involving a much broader range of state and non-state actors. Second, Korean unification has been re-conceptualized from a utopian, desirable dream or the natural, inevitable destiny of an ethnic people/nation to a dangerous, uncertain future scenario that demands strategic preparatory labor in the present. What sets this dissertation apart from existing interdisciplinary research on Korean unification is this very focus on the concept of “preparation” (chunbi). At the very core of the notion of unification preparation is that preparation can determine whether the future is a "blessing" or "catastrophe." Preparation is understood to be the critical form of agency and labor toward what is increasingly being imagined to be a highly uncertain, potentially catastrophic future. This research does not assume that South Korean anticipations of a Unified Korea is a new empirical phenomenon; however, I argue that the increasing emphasis on "preparation" of a future scenario is a significant re-fashioning of the decades-long ‘dreams’ and ‘wishes’ of Korean unification that deserves close scholarly attention.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37368189
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