Current Institutional Affiliation

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2007
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, University of California / Irvine
Fandom, Science, and Nationalism: South Korea's Stem Cell Scandal

In February, 2006, a South Korean truck driver lit his body on fire in front of a historic statue in the center of Seoul. Little is known about the man, except that he was a member of an online chat cafe called the 'I Love Hwang Woo Suk' Fanclub. Just before his death, he left behind an Internet memo calling on Hwang's supporters to gather in Seoul. He spent his last hours distributing leaflets professing the innocence of disgranced stem cell scientist Hwang Woo Suk. Desiring Hwang's exoneration and the continuation of his research, this 'fan' sacrificed his life. Using the recent Korean stem cell controversy as an entry point, this project explores the relationship between 1) the central role of science and technology in Korea's contemporary economic/social development and national imagination and 2) the emergence of 'fans' as a dynamic and unique social constituency with increasing capability to shape Korean society. How does 'scientist' as the particular object of fandom distinguish it from other groups in Korea that use fandom as a mode to express their patriotic fervor and achieve specific goals? This project examines the anxieties and antagonisms scientific fandom revealed, and the reason science was regarded as the cure to the ills of Korean society. How are both the potential impact of this fanclub on Korea's social and political landscape, as well as interpretations of fandom, contingent upon the ability of Hwang's fans to exonerate him so that Korea may re-enter the race to scientific fandom?