South Korean landscapes of power: apartments and the modern city in Seoul

Le 26 mars 2015, Valérie Gelézeau a été invitée par Vladimir Thikonov à donner une conférence au département des langues et civilisations orientales de l’Université d’Oslo.

Intitulée « South Korean landscapes of power : apartments and the modern city in Seoul », cette conférence reprenait en les prolongeant les interprétations du livre Séoul, ville géante, cités radieuses (CNRS éditions, 2003), désormais en accès libre et gratuit sur OpenEdition.

Résumé de la conférence

Largely unknown to city-dwellers before the 1960s, large apartment complexes (ap’at’ŭ tanji) are powerfully shaping the landscapes of contemporary South Korean cities. Some are now being memorialized by artists, planners or citizen themselves. How did western-style housing blocks migrate to Korea on such a large scale? To what extend do they reflect the power relations between the global and the local in South Korean cities? What is currently at stake regarding the future of apartments in the contemporary post-industrial Korean society? Combining the perspective of cultural geography and Korean studies, the conference will address those issues regarding the significance of South Korea as a “Republic of Apartments” (ap’at’ŭ konghwaguk), where apartment complexes have been the main architectural mediation of the Korean society to its urban modernity.

Songdo (South Korea), a mega-project in the making : residential neighborhoods of an urban utopia

Actuellement en résidence de recherches à l’International Institute for Asian Studies, Valérie Gelézeau a donné le 17 mars 2015 à Leyde, dans le cadre des IIAS lunch lectures mensuelles, une conférence intitulée :

« Songdo (South Korea), a mega-project in the making : residential neighborhoods of an urban utopia »


Résumé de la conférence

Near Seoul, a new city emerges on a vast reclaimed zone from the sea: Songdo, a mega-urban project that is to house about 200 000 inhabitants by 2020. In the globalized competition of large metropolises, this new “International City” is part of the South Korean public policies that try to promote the Seoul capital region as a major hub in North East Asia. The development of Songdo also derives from the opening to foreign investments that followed the financial crisis of 1998 and is at the core of so-called “IFEZ” (Incheon Free Economic Zone). In the programmatic or analytic discourse of planners and developers, Songdo appears as an urban utopia of the 21st century, combining digital technologies (“U-City”, “smart city”) and sustainable development (“green city”). Today, over 70 000 people already settled in – and live between construction sites, brand new skyscrapers, or a public space often referring to foreign locations (the “Central Park”).

What does it mean to live in such a city in the making? To what extent do the inhabitants contribute to its building or are they simply passive receptacles of top-down policies?

This lecture exposed the preliminary findings of a research aiming at analyzing the process of place construction in a mega-project typical of Asian contemporary urban development. Anchored in a geographical perspective and grounded on ethnographic research, it focused on residential neighborhoods where the planning of housing and public facilities meets the actual practices of the pioneering residents of the new city. The planned city features three key aspects of contemporary urban development: it is a “smart city” (where architecture and space articulates the pervasive use of the computer in the society); it is a “green city” combining a well-groomed parks and green public spaces, but also the ideology of sustainable development (low carbon, recycling, low energy buildings, etc.); and it is an “international city” based on international business and R&D activities connected with higher education (foreign universities). While these features situate the planning discourse on Songdo within the paradigm of the urban utopia, all carry a certain reality in residents’ life. But the ongoing process of permanent construction creates other unexpected spaces intermediate land waiting for development or construction (they are used as recreational space or vegetable gardens), while citizen’s association try to negotiate the priorities of development.

Queer Activism and Postsecular Geopolitics in South Korea

Le 17 avril 2015,

Dans le cadre du séminaire pluridisciplinaire du CRC,

Judy Han

(Université de Toronto, invitée de l’EHESS)

donne une conférence intitulée

 Queer Activism and Postsecular Geopolitics in South Korea

au grand salon, à 14h-16h

Maison de l’Asie, 22 avenue du Président Wilson, Paris 16e.


Queer activism in Korea has in recent decades become more visible and public in their articulation of non-normative gender and sexual identity and assertion of dissident political subjectivity. There are also intensified and more institutionalized forms of religious homophobia today in the political sphere, as can be seen in the rise of the largely Christian-led opposition against queer rights and anti-discrimination policies. Drawing from ongoing research on the transnational infrastructure of Korean/American Christianity and the contentious cultural politics of racial and sexual difference, I will focus on the December 2014 controversy over the ill-fated Seoul Charter of Human Rights that resulted in queer activists and allies occupying the Seoul City Hall for six days in protest. Rather than interpret the political spectacle simply as a contestation between (secular) queer dissidents and (religious) homophobia, I suggest a postsecular geopolitical frame to highlight the contested place of religion in politics and the significance of Christian-identified queer activists and religious allies. Particularly instructive is the figure of “chongbukgei”—literally a homosexual subservient to North Korea—a new epithet used by homophobic activists in South Korea to conjure Cold War-era anticommunism in conflating sexual perversion with political subversion.