This is the third installment of the NK News feature dedicated to innovative, new and lesser-known authors.
This week we present scholars who have described North Korea by approaching alternative topics: David Shim has recently authored a ground-breaking compendium of imagery of North Korea. Hyejin Kim has given voice to a number of defectors, crafting their testimony into a novel; Emma Campbell has recently posed questions related to the notion of accountability and collective responsibility for all North Koreans regarding human rights abuses, while also exploring the issue of Korean nationalism; and Sandra Fahy analyzes the history and meaning of North Korea’s famine in the 1990s through the testimony of defectors in South Korea and Japan, illustrating how North Korean society changed in the process of survival.
Note: This list is not meant to be exhaustive and there may be many good names left out, because we do not know them yet and did not have the chance to review their work. There are also scholars who publish in languages other than English, therefore their work is not available to the wider field of North Korea followers. The ones we present here are those we are familiar with, and who have published in English or Korean.
David Shim, an assistant professor in the Department of International Relations and International Organization at the University of Groningen and Associate Research Fellow at the GIGA Institute of Asian Studies in Hamburg – his birthplace. Shim’s academic background lies in the field of international relations (Ph.D) and Korean studies (MA). His work has benefitted from experiences made while living or working in Cambodia, North and South Korea, Rwanda and the Netherlands. Shim focuses on the visual dimension of global politics.
Various political actors rely on visual imagery as a way to communicate and represent certain types of policies, events and knowledge. The issue of visual images is therefore of the utmost importance, because it cannot be separated from how people approach and understand the world around them; including politics. In this regard Shim believes it is important to ask questions related to the ethical and political implications of vision, that is, what people see (and do not see) – and visuality – how people are led to see things – because the visual process is an integral part of knowledge related to (distant) people and places.
In his 2014 book Visual Politics and North Korea, Shim examines the role of images in the way that issues related to North Korea are understood in contemporary geopolitics. Specifically, he discusses two areas – fields of vision, as they are called in the book – which, Shim argues, are essential to gather and produce knowledge about the country: documentary photography of its daily life and satellite imagery. Shim also has a strong interest for transcending traditional disciplinary boundaries in academia; he adopts approaches and concepts derived from geography (notions of place and space), political science (politics of power) and sociology (home and the everyday life).
Emma Campbell is the Korea Institute Postdoctoral Fellow, based in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, College of the Asia and the Pacific at the Australian National University. She has previously worked in the field with Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders) and as an editor at the North Korea Database Center, a Seoul-based NGO specializing in North Korean human rights and the welfare of North Korean refugees living in South Korea. Campbell received her Ph.D from the Australian National University in 2011 where she was a Korea Foundation Scholar and Cheung Kong Australia Endeavour Research Fellow.
Campbell first encountered Korea in 1996 when studying Chinese in Beijing alongside many Korean students. During that stay in Beijing she traveled to the DPRK for the first time, and then in 1998 she came to Seoul. Her passion and enthusiasm for studying the Korean Peninsula has continued ever since. Her particular research interests include attitudes to unification in the South Korea and people-to-people engagement with North Korea, as opposed to the idea of sanctions as the only possible solution to the North Korean conundrum.
Kim Hyejin has a varied career background. She worked in private, public and non-profit sector organizations, holding positions in China at a Dubai-based transnational education firm and in Singapore as managing director of an international school. She currently works as the deputy convener of the Global Studies program and lecturer in political science at the National University in Singapore.
As an interdisciplinary scholar of globalization, Kim researches topics of ethnicity, education and transnational business. She holds degrees in anthropology, Chinese studies and global affairs. Kim has written four books – two in English, two in Korean – based on her fieldwork in China and Korea. One is an academic work on tension between South Koreans and China-born Koreans. Two others are aimed at wider audiences, discussing issues of food and education in China.
Finally, her most important work for North Korea watchers is a novel about North Korean people: Jia: A Novel of North Korea, is based on tales from people she met while traveling in northeast China. Kim explained to NK News that she never intended to write the book: “I simply encountered many interesting people and heard their stories. I kept notes. These are the habits of someone trained in anthropology who is curious about the social world around her. One day those notes formed a story in my head.”
The novel is, of course, fiction, but it draws on the life stories of real people. Fiction, Kim said, was especially suited to depicting their stories: “One problem for journalists and social scientists seeking to report on people who may be residing illegally in a country is that one cannot know how reliable interviewees are. With fiction this problem disappears.”
In her novel, Hyejin Kim tried to depict North Koreans as regular people in extraordinary circumstances – not merely as victims or villains. Like humans anywhere, the people she met had to make choices about their lives and struggled to accept their circumstances. The ultimate purpose of the book is to document those universal human struggles.
Sandra Fahyis another name in the field of North Korean studies that will probably come to prominence in coming years. Her work deals with one of darkest chapters in the history of North Korea – the famine that followed the economic collapse of the early 1990s – through the testimony of those who survived and subsequently moved to either South Korea or Japan. Fahy completed a doctorate in anthropology at the School or Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She held a post-doctoral fellowship at École des hautes études en sciences socials in Paris at the Centre de Recherches sur la Corée, the Korean Studies Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, and also a Sejong Society Fellowship also at the KSI. She is currently assistant professor of anthropology in the Faculty of Liberal Arts at Sophia University in Tokyo.
Dealing with post-Cold War East Asia, the Koreas and Korean migration to Japan and China, Fahy’s research examines the experiences of North Korean defectors, in Seoul and Tokyo, who survived the 1990s North Korean famine and lived to tell the story of ongoing changes in the country. In this respect, Fahy’s work touches upon many inter-related areas such as structural and political violence, collective social suffering, socio-economic crisis, famine, hunger, food inequality, mass migration, refugees, displaced persons, non-traditional security, humanitarianism and international intervention.
Fahy is interested in narrative theory and how discourse shapes subjective experience at the time of occurrence and afterward. Her research and fieldwork have culminated in several peer-reviewed publications. Her first monograph, tentatively titled Marching through Suffering: Loss, Survival and North Korea, is forthcoming from Columbia University Press in 2015.
Picture: Eric Lafforgue
This is the third installment of the NK News feature dedicated to innovative, new and lesser-known authors.This week we present scholars who have described North Korea by approaching alternative topics: David Shim has recently authored a ground-breaking compendium of imagery of North Korea. Hyejin Kim has given voice to a number of defectors, crafting their testimony into a novel; Emma
Gianluca Spezza is a PhD candidate at the International Institute of Korean Studies (IKSU), University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), in the UK. His work has been published and interviewed on The Guardian, BBC, Newsweek Korea, and DR among others. He writes about North Korea, international organizations, international relations and national identity. Email him at [email protected]or follow him on Twitter @TheSpezz