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With the discovery of rare and endangered species in areas around the Korean Demilitarized Zone, and inspired by the paradoxical flourishing of nonhuman nature in the context of unending war, a wide network of scientists, bureaucrats, journalists, natural scientists, citizen ecologists, and others have become captured by a utopian vision in which nature, peace, and life constitute a tightly-wound bundle of naturalized associations. Especially since the late 1990s, in the context of increasingly dire planetary futures presented by global climate change and mass extinction, as well as with the deteriorating prospects of national reunification or reconciliation between the two Koreas, the DMZ’s nature has offered the conceptual ground for mainstream and marginal imaginaries of peace in South Korea and beyond. While it would be easy to dismiss these hopeful discourses as naive and romanticizing, this paper seeks to take them seriously as empirically-grounded logics in which the existence of biodiversity of the DMZ offers potentially alternatives to the present political impasse. How is the DMZ’s nature temporally operationalized as transhistorical and universal, connecting a pre-division, yet national, space to a “context yet to come” of a post-division Korea? What imaginative possibilities does it offer beyond state-centric and nationalist frameworks for unification?
Eleana Kim is a sociocultural anthropologist and Associate Professor of Anthropology at University of California, Irvine. Her research and teaching focuses on kinship, nationalism, political ecology, and posthumanism. Her current research on the Korean DMZ has been supported by the Wenner-Gren Foundation and the ACLS. Her first book, Adopted Territory: Transnational Korean Adoptees and the Politics of Belonging, received the 2012 James B. Palais Prize from the Association of Asian Studies and the 2012 Association of Asian American Studies Social Science book award.
This is an East Asia Center event, cosponsored by the departments of Anthropology, Asian American Studies, History, and East Asian Languages & Cultural Studies as well as the Reinventing Japan Research Focus Group and the Center for Cold War Studies.