Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2019
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Order and Emancipation: Judicial Activism in South Korean Queer Movements

This research examines the relationship between law and sexuality in South Korea by studying how they mutually affect each other in contemporary queer movements. Legal agendas have increasingly become central in queer politics in the past decade, despite many queer activists' recognition that legal protection is not a panacea. Human rights lawyers, often queer people themselves, have taken the lead in major legislative and litigatory campaigns. This "legal turn" is part of a broader societal trend in Korea and many other regions that scholars have called the "judicialization of politics", meaning that law is treated as the most powerful language of politics. In a unique context where contesting desires for institutional protection and fluid emancipation coexist, the proposed study investigates 1) how people who have previously thought of themselves as outside of the law have come to invest significant time and labor into legal spheres to gain emancipation and inclusion, 2) what aspects of queer liberation actually translate into the language of the law, and 3) the relationship between their legal and non-legal means of activism. With these research questions, this study will explain how specific ideas and practices of the law inform changing ideals of queer emancipation. It also examines how queer movement's specific engagements with the law may affect general legal ideologies in South Korea as well as the legal consciousness of the queer population. By addressing these questions, this project aims to illuminate the question of order in Korean politics. Toward this end, I will conduct twelve months of ethnographic research, mainly in Seoul, where most of the queer rights organizations are located. Collected data will cover public discourses, political performances such as street protests and court hearings, the process of legal knowledge production regarding sexual orientation and gender identity, and activists' educational practices such as workshops and lectures.