Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Performance Studies, Northwestern University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2018
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Drama/Theater and Perfomance Studies, Northwestern University
Performing Democracy: The Gwangju Uprising and the Politics of Mourning in South Korea, 1980-2017

This dissertation examines contemporary South Korean performances of democracy by engaging with the history of state violence during and after the Gwangju Uprising (May 18-17, 1980), a pivotal moment in the history of Korea's democracy. I use the term 'performances of democracy' broadly to include not only explicitly artistic works such as theatre with social commentary, but also presentational forms in public spheres in service of democracy such as protest, public hearings, and commemorative practices. Due to the uprising's political and social significance, many scholarly works have been published on this event, mostly in Korea and peripherally in the United States, but the existing scholarship has examined the uprising from top-down state-centered viewpoints, overlooking the significance of micro-level of actions of individual protestors. Thus, this project seeks to fill this gap by illuminating the agency of individual protestors who used their bodies as a form of physical resistance. What makes this uprising worthy of research is the state-sponsored erasure of this historical moment. Military dictatorship suppressed public discussion of the uprising (news media, textbook, literature, public memorialization etc.), and theatre has been one of the few spaces where repressed truths of the uprising were revealed by theatre artists often risking the state's repercussions. In my dissertation, I ask how performances, broadly understood, subvert the politics of erasure of the state. What tools does performance provide to make censored historical truths known to the public? How does that contribute to advancing democracy? My preliminary hypothesis, which I will seek to validate through archival works and ethnographic fieldwork in Korea, rests on my proposition that performance facilitates democracy by resisting the state's regulation of the kinds of deaths entitled to the public's grief, thereby challenging the state's efforts to erase certain deaths from the collective memory.