Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Korea Taking Japanese Grievances Global

By Kevin Hockmuth and George Baca

 For those who have spent even a short time living in the Republic of Korea, it is readily evident that anti-Japanese sentiments run strong and hot. On one level, it makes sense that ordinary Koreans would have a strong sense of grievance associated with the prior Japanese occupation. In the early days of the Republic, elite politicians worked frantically against the accusations that South Korea was home to the “collaborators.” Indeed, anti-Japanese rhetoric has been a mainstay of South Korean politics.

The legacy of this national formation has hit us hard on numerous occasions where we have witnessed the miraculous conversion of an apathetic student into a sharp, energetic critic driven by an almost missionary zeal informing one of Japanese wrongs: from Dokdo and the renaming of the “Sea of Japan” to comfort women.  Often conversations on these subjects turn to how best to get world opinion behind Korea’s position on these issues. 

Increasingly, the Korean government has sought to take these popular resentments and insert them into the agenda within the multilateral international framework. A recent New York Times article entitled, “U.S. Emerges as Central Stage in Asian Rivalry”, illustrates the point. The article points to a transition from the usual ham-handed PR campaigns to stoke global opinion about Japan’s past misdeeds, to a more sophisticated approach that begins on K-Street in Washington. It seems that Korean strategists have found their way to the Mecca of lobbying; a mainstay of US power politics: making campaign contributions to get your issues on the agenda.

And these efforts have yielded some minor, yet notable, political outcomes that move the ball in the direction the Korean government wants it to go. Activists in the Korean-American community have been successful in constructing statues commemorating comfort women in Glendale, CA and Palisades Park, NJ.  Furthermore, the legislature in Virginia has recently passed a bill that requires all textbooks in the state must include the name East Sea along with the generally more accepted name Sea of Japan; a similar piece of legislation is currently pending in New York. In the case of Virginia, the result came after heavy lobbying by the diplomatic detachment of both countries, including their respective ambassadors.    

for the rest, go to: http://busanhaps.com/article/feature-taking-japanese-grievances-global

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Multiculturalism in Korea

As an anthropologist living and studying in Korea, I have become fascinated with the political uses of the idea. Indeed multiculturalism has become popular in the so-called new and “globalizing” Korea. Much like globalization, multiculturalism is an idea that comes from the West and it seeks to present the world in way that is not accurate. Korea, we are told, is becoming a “multicultural” nation because of the growing presence of foreigners. But we cannot forget the reason for these new arrivals: the simple fact of labor. Foreigners in Korea are not here – much like in Europe or the United States -- so that Korea can add cultural richness to its traditional culture and society. Foreigners are here to do jobs that Koreans either cannot do (teach “native English”) or won’t do (work in factories for substandard wages; or marry Korean men in the rural areas).

Lost in this confusion about “multi” cultures is a very “real” political and economic conflicts in Korea. Over the past few decades, with the demise of the dictatorship and the rise of neoliberal economic policies, the gap between wealthy and poor Koreans has been rising. Part of this increasing inequality stems from the economic model that seeks to drive down wages, release companies of responsibility for worker’s needs, and break up unions. 

Another issue that gets lost in the idea of multiculturalism has been the denigration of Korea’s rural areas and an agricultural policy that is a nowhere road – once again, much like the US and Europe. Amid Korea’s industrial boom, capital and investment has been redistributed toward the urban areas. Indeed with industrialization the allure of the cities has continued to stigmatize the rural areas. Part of this process of denigration and stigmatization has been the fact that rural men and farmers have difficulties finding life partners and wives. The government has stepped in by encouraging “international marriages” – which has piggy-backed on the sex trade in South East Asia – by connecting rural and lower class Koreans with women from Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Cambodia. Let’s not forget that this is about labor as well. Women perform large amounts of labor in the household, which often goes unpaid.

By calling attention to labor and social conflict within Korea, I am not discouraging Koreans from being open to new cultural values and people from different parts of the world. Instead this quest for a more liberal Korea, and its relations beyond the peninsula, must begin with a more truthful and sober understanding of what is happening within Korean society. Otherwise, Korea is doomed to go down the same mistaken road that has made racism and migration an ongoing problem in the US and Europe. 


Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Two Faces of Eugene Genovese

With the recent passing of historian Eugene Genovese, I was asked to write about him. Here is what I came up with.

Over the past two decades historian Eugene Genovese has been an object of scorn, even hatred, by “the Left.” Meanwhile various right wing and conservative figures have embraced him and he developed a number of friendships and alliances that seemed to undermine his long and unflinching career as a radical scholar. I will confess the perception of two Eugene Genoveses – the radical historian gifted with great analytical powers and the rightwing ideologue – has been puzzling. In 1993 I discovered Genovese’s prodigious critical powers in his classic Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. I was in awe of the way he rejected the simple moralism inherent in liberal assessments of slavery by drawing an authoritative picture, bewildering in all its contradictory details, of the manner in which slaves and their owners created a society. I navigated my way through Genovese’s corpus largely unguided, which left me oblivious of his now legendary shift to ‘‘the Right’’(see Genovese 1994). To say the least, my enthusiasm for Genovese went over like a lead balloon as I began to traverse my way through the political landmines of academia. My admiration for Genovese’s intellectual powers met hushes, awkward silences, raised eyebrows, and the occasional didactic lecture to disabuse me of my ignorance. Over the past twenty years I have continued to pay attention to Genovese’s work—while ignoring much of his incendiary political rhetoric—and believe that he offers many insights necessary for a dialectical approach to anthropology. Any scholar interested in understanding contemporary global capitalism and changing forms of nationalism and racism, will ignore Eugene Genovese’s work at her own peril.

From the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, Genovese made an indelible mark—drawing, it seems, equal parts of praise and criticism—with the rapid-fire publication of four classic texts: The Political Economy of Slavery (1965), The World the Slaveholders Made (1969), In Red and Black (1971), and finally Roll, Jordan, Roll (1974). Armed with a sophisticated understanding of Marxist theory he made a valiant effort to reorient the discipline of American history. At the time, the study of slavery in the United States was mired in parochial notions of American Exceptionalism that presumed slavery was an aberration to the United States’ core ideals, a nation that was ultimately viewed as having, through godly ordinance, the mission to spread liberty and democracy. Inspired by Antonio Gramsci’s concept of cultural hegemony (see Genovese 1967), he found within pro-slavery ideology an antagonism to the market-based bourgeois society of the antebellum North. In the end, he showed that the southern planters constituted a forceful opposition to the expansion of modern capitalist social relations (Lichtenstein 1997). Yet it produced a class hegemony through paternalism—a process that bound planters and slaves into fraught yet tight social relationships, which he chillingly described in the opening passage of Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made:

Cruel, unjust, exploitative, oppressive, slavery bound two peoples together in bitter antagonism while creating an organic relationship so complex and ambivalent that neither could express the simplest feelings without reference to the other. By definition and in essence it was a system of class rule, inwhich some people lived off the labor of others. American slavery subordinated one race to another and thereby rendered its fundamental class relationships more complex and ambiguous; but they remained class relationships. The racism that developed from racial subordination influenced every aspect of American life and remains powerful. But slavery as a system of class rule predated racism and racial subordination in world history and once existed without them (Genovese1974: 3–4).

For the rest, go to:

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Conjuring Crisis

Conjuring Crisis: Racism and Civil Rights in a Southern Military City
Conjuring Crisis: Racism and Civil Rights in a Southern Military City [Paperback]


Book Description

May 13, 2010

How have civil rights transformed racial politics in America? Connecting economic and social reforms to racial and class inequality, Conjuring Crisis counters the myth of steady race progress by analyzing how the federal government and local politicians have sometimes "reformed" politics in ways that have amplified racism in the post civil-rights era.

In the 1990s at Fort Bragg and Fayetteville, North Carolina, the city's dominant political coalition of white civic and business leaders had lost control of the city council. Amid accusations of racism in the police department, two white council members joined black colleagues in support of the NAACP's demand for an investigation. George Baca's ethnographic research reveals how residents and politicians transformed an ordinary conflict into a "crisis" that raised the specter of chaos and disaster. He explores new territory by focusing on the broader intersection of militarization, urban politics, and civil rights.

Editorial Reviews


"Baca provides a valuable window into the complex world of modern racism, in which it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the victim and the perpetrator. Highly recommended."
(Choice 20110301)

"Baca does a solid job of providing local and regional back story to the ongoing racial dramas in Fayetteville, North Carolina. His work make a very powerful statement about the care citizens have to take vis-a-vis the statements made by their political representatives regarding whose interests they serve."
(Contemporary Sociology 19990101)

"Conjuring Crisis is a gem. It takes us into the social drama around federal funding and racism at the twin communities of Fort Bragg and Fayetteville—giving us a rich exploration of the contradictions of 21st century America. George Baca teaches us about post-segregation racism, and also about the unusual role played by the military in and around southern cities."
(Vijay Prashad author of The Darker Nations: A People's History of the Third World 20100209)

"This nuanced, carefully researched ethnography offers a sobering critique of civil rights reforms in Fayetteville. An important and troubling work."
(Katherine McCaffrey Associate Professor of Anthropology, Montclair State University 20090708)

"This book is an impressive and significant contribution to the ongoing debate over how and why race matters in urban politics. Baca provides an extremely intriguing study of how racial hysteria follows a tradition of cultivating and mobilizing white racial anxiety that extends back to the era of slavery."
(John Hartigan Professor of Anthropology, University of Texas 20090526)

"The book's unsettling message is that a new kind of racism has emerged to replace the 'overtly racist' system that the civil rights reforms of the 1960s were designed to overcome. A fascinating study."
(Journal of Southern History 20120201)

About the Author

George Baca is a research scholar at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York. He is the editor of Nationalism's Bloody Terrain: Racism, Class Inequality, and the Politics of Recognition, coeditor of Empirical Futures: Anthropologists and Historians Engage the Work of Sidney W. Mintz, and associate editor of Dialectical Anthropology.


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Kim Jong-il's Shadow

With the sudden passing of Kim Jong-il, the foreseeable future of news about Korea will be dominated by speculation about North Korea’s instability, possible collapse, and of course reunification. However, it is important to not get caught up into ideas of crisis about such a “rogue” state and keep in mind that Europe, the United States, and South Korea have undergone their fair share of destabilizing events over the past year.

While Kim Jong-il’s death is surely significant, it will likely overshadow the passing of another important figure of the half century of political evolution here on the Korean peninsula.
Surely with all the hype about the “Dear Leader” one could easily lose Park Tae-joon’s death on December 14th in the shuffle. Mr. Park was a former South Korean general who established POSCO – one of the world’s largest steel manufacturers. Even more interesting, General Tae-joon Park was one of the last prominent figures involved in President Park Chung-hee’s coup d’état of 1961 and the subsequent industrial push that transformed Korea from a poverty-stricken country to one of the world’s wealthiest nation.
In this rag’s-to-riches tale, undoubtedly the General had a leading part for the way he ran the steel plant with the military precision that embodied in Meiji Japan’s belief that a “rich nation” requires a “strong army.” And so it went.
Looking back to this period is informative about how the global system of economics and power actually works. Now, South Korea is a poster-child of the West’s development success. However, it wasn’t always that way.
One important piece of irony is that General Park’s most formidable obstacle was also the United States government who turned down his request for assistance in building Korea’s first steel plant. In 1966, American and World Bank economists concluded that “South Korea could not successfully build, operate, or support an integrated steel mill” and refused to cooperate in financing it.
Ignoring the failure to win over the west’s financiers, President Park Chung-hee maneuvered around the American opposition by negotiating a reparation package, to normalize relations with Japan, which included money and technology necessary for the steel plant. Indeed, POSCO would become the foundation of Korea’s heavy industry and its export successes. By 1998, POSCO was ranked number one internationally “producing 25.6 million metric tons.”

Though many Korean politicians are proud of this story and hold such people like Park Tae-joon as national heroes, they have actually been implementing policies over the past two decades that have undermined such efforts.
As early as the 1980s, US officials and the IMF were looking to privatize South Korea’s economy and break the government’s regulations on foreign capital. And it was with the economic crisis of 1996 that the IMF and US business interests got its chance. As part of the IMF bailout package of 1997, the Korean government began a vast privatization scheme that included POSCO. By 2000, POSCO was fully privatized, as more than 50% of the firm went into the hands of foreign investors.
In the place of the rightfully maligned “development dictatorship” of Park Chung-hee has arisen a government and business elite that has followed neo-liberal path of the IMF and its holy grail of “free markets.” And in doing so economic disparity in South Korean has risen along with other indicators of political instability. For example, recently the ruling Grand National Party has been riven with dissension as representatives Jeong Tae-keun and Kim Song-sik suddenly deserted the party. The two representatives were disillusioned by the inability of the party to pass reforms “to win back the public’s confidence ahead of two crucial elections next year. The duo and other reformist legislators claim that the party should disband and create a new political party, possibly without Lee Myung-bak.”  
Perhaps, the death of Kim Jong-il will save the Grand National Party. Now powerful leaders in the US, Europe, and South can mobilize fears about North Korea and dissuade us to think more seriously about the economic problems that have shaken the western world and those who have followed its path.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Hanjin Heavy Industries Labor Conflict, Kim Jin-Sook, and the Bus of Hope Movement in South Korea

Since the 1980s, South Korea has become famous for the militancy of its labor movement. Korean workers movements have been successful in launching many large-scale strikes and protests since the demise of South Korea’s authoritarian regime in 1987. Though the labor movement has achieved much since the democratic transition, such protests often meet repression from the state. This seems to be the current situation with an interesting hybrid of labor conflict and social movement that has catalyzed in what has been dubbed the “Bus of Hope Movement.” Over the past two months popular support has emerged striking workers at Hanjin Heavy Industries’ shipyard located on the the small Island of Young-Do in Busan, South Korea.

Saturday evening, July 30, 2011, the Buses of Hope continued its campaign. Eager to watch the drama unfold, I  headed to  the offices of the city’s major newspaper the Busan Ilbo to join a small team of journalists who where preparing to spend the entire night  covering the event. Saturday was the “3rd Stage” of the Bus of Hope Movement, which began on June 11th when the famous poet Song Young-Dong led 600 people on buses from Seoul to the Hanjin shipyard where they would protest in solidarity with the 51 year old welder and labor representative Kim Jin-Sook.

Ms. Kim has been perched 115 feet above the ground on the infamous crane #85 at the shipyard.  On January 6th Ms. Kim climbed to the top and began her protest against Hanjin laying off more than 400 workers. Her actions have been presented by Hanjin management and rightwing opposition groups as an isolated protest by a woman who does not represent the real interests of the workers. However her standoff with management is part of a longer struggle that has been ebbing-and-flowing over  the past ten years. Drawing attention to this larger struggle, Ms. Kim strategically chose crane #85 to perch herself. This crane is a symbolically powerful symbol of the conflict because it is where another trade unionist, Kim Ju-Ik, hung himself in 2003 after spending 129 days in the crane as he saw no compromise in sight.

Hanjin Management has become frustrated with the Bus of Hope movement labeling the participants outside agitators. The anger and tension has grown as has the movement. On July 9th, the Bus of Hope Movement became of national importance as 185 buses, in commeration of Kim Jin-Sook’s 185 days in the crane,  brought some 7,000 supporters to Busan with the intent of meeting Kim Jin-Sook at the Hanjin Shipyard. In response to this spike in participation Hanjin Management requested “governmental authority” to get support of the police to form a blockade to keep the "Hope Riders" from crane #85. Indeed, the July 9th protest became violent as the police and Hanjin’s private security forces used water cannons and tear gas to block the protesters from arriving at Kim Jin-Sook’s crane.

Two weeks later, with Kim Jin-Sook’s 200th day in the crane looming, the Bus of Hope protest organizer Song Young-Don put together plans of what was suppose to be the largest protest. However, the authorities redoubled their efforts to contain the protest as Busan District Court Judge filed 26 charges against Song for violating laws on assembly and demonstration. As we moved from the rally to the bridge, this tension was palpable. The police were well-organized and came in large numbers. Two of the journalists who accompanied me were very nervous and weary about the possibility of violence. Haggard and tired from covering the event since the early morning they had received notice that a rightwing citizen’s group and the police were lining up at the bridges to keep buses from entering Young-Do Island and making their way to the shipyard. As we watched the organizers of the rally offer speeches, interspersed with a variety of entertainers (from traditional Korea dance to break dancing to American gangster-rap), we were following reports about the teeming of riot police at the nearby bridge. In fact there were 7,000 riot police.

At 9 pm, when the rally was scheduled to begin its crossing of the bridge, we moved to the bridge where we were met with the stunning presence of several hundreds of riot police. Traffic backed up for at least a mile as the police would not let anyone who did not have proof they were residents onto the island. The police were boarding public buses in their quest to keep all protesters off the island. Despite the intensity on behalf of the police, the rally continued in the vein of non violence as the protesters continued their vigil at the train station throughout the night.

Hanjin Management and governmental officials have tried to present the Bus of Hope Movement as "outside agitators" who have no business being involved in this local labor dispute. What they are missing is that Kim Jin-Sook's actions have resonated strongly with the feelings of vulnerability and weakness that an increasing number of Koreans are feeling. What is most striking is the way that the Bus of Hope movement has transcended working class grievances and has galvanized many middle-classes. It is important to remember that this is happening at the same time that many Korean University students are protesting the price of tuition. If the government fails to take heed of these broad-level grievances they will only contribute to the anger and resentment that many Koreans have for the powerful conglomerates (chaebols) like Hanjin.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

New to the Blogoshpere

Actually I am new to the world of blogging. People have suggested that I blog for a while. I have not really been too keen. However, now that I am in Korea and retooling as an Asianist it seems like a good idea. I have been in Korea for about 18 months and am developing a larger research project. I will begin developing some of my ideas about Korean society and politics.