"The Korea Exception: Locating Land Mines in the InterKorean Borderlands"

Talk By Eleana Kim, University of California Irvine

Fri, September 26, 2014 | Meyerson Conference Room

3:30 PM - 5:00 PM

Photo by Nicola Kountoupes
Photo by Nicola Kountoupes

Uninhabited for more than sixty years, the Korean DMZ is now celebrated by international and South Korean conservationists, environmentalists, scientists, and Korean government bureaucrats as an ecological haven. The discovery of rare and endangered species in and around the zone has inspired a host of developments in the borderlands of South Korea, especially in the last decade, as public interest in ecology and biodiversity has been heightened due to global climate change and mass extinction on an unprecedented scale. This paper critically analyzes the multiple meanings and forms of life in and around the DMZ and its resignification from a scar of war and national division into a zone of "peace and life,” by focusing on the problem of land mines, over one million of which are buried in the DMZ and which ensure that the border remains a no-man’s land for the indefinite future. Land mines, however, are not limited to the DMZ proper, but are found throughout the shifting landscapes of the border areas. As naturalcultural elements of the interKorean borderlands, whether scattered randomly or laid deliberately, they create indelible effects on the humans and nonhumans that inhabit these landscapes, securing and proliferating geographic and social borders. Their deadly liveliness makes them horrible to contemplate yet nevertheless good to think with, offering a vantage point on U.S. empire, which, like landmines, can be random, indiscriminate, self-destructive, and, as I show, may even be a source of unexpected transcendence.


Eleana Kim is an Associate Professor of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. Her first book, Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging (Duke University Press, 2010) was the recipient of the James B. Palais Prize from the Association of Asian Studies and the Social Science Book Award from the Association of Asian American Studies, both in 2012. Her current project, “Making Peace with Nature: The Greening of the Korean Demilitarized Zone,” has been funded by an ACLS/SSRC/NEH International Area Studies Grant. 


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