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Violent Imaginaries in Seoul. The US Armed Forces in South Korea

Publié le 23 novembre 2016 Mis à jour le 25 septembre 2023

23 novembre

In collaboration with the LAMC

Elisabeth Schober
(University of Oslo)

Salle Henri Janne (15ème étage), Institut de Sociologie, Bâtiment S
Avenue Jeanne, 44, 1050 Bruxelles

The long-term stationing of United States forces in South Korea, which has entailed a continuous flow of predominantly young men sent to the country for typically short postings, has created an uneasy triangle involving foreign soldiers, local women and men. Widespread prostitution and sexual crimes committed in adult entertainment areas near US bases have frequently been utilized by actors of the South Korean Nationalist Left as both a symbol for—and a symptom of—the uneven relationship between the United States and Korea. In such a way, acrimonious sentiments triggered by what I call “base encounters” have been amplified into a matter that touch upon vital national questions, and have been carried forward through time, affecting ever new Korean generations and urban spaces. In this paper, I will use the notion of “violent imaginaries” to make sense of these processes I observed during 21 months of fieldwork in the city of Seoul. Violent imaginaries is a term which refers to a social practice that describes how people make sense of US militarism through the reconfiguration of individual acts of gendered violence into a matter that pertains to the nation. I use this concept to stress that such contestations over gender represent an action that is aimed at political change ; that much mediation goes into conjuring up negative images of US soldiers, as most Koreans will rely on information provided by others rather than first-hand experience ; and that such depictions have become integral to particular nationalist frames through which relations between the United States and its host nation are viewed.

Elisabeth Schober is a postdoctoral fellow at the Department of Social Anthropology, University of Oslo, where she is part of the ERC-Advanced Grant funded project “Overheating. The three crises of globalization”. While she has previously investigated responses to US bases in South Korea, nowadays she looks into the manifold challenges emerging from the relocation of manufacturing from Korea to the Philippines. She is the author of “Base Encounters” (Pluto, 2016) and has recently co-edited (with Thomas Hylland Eriksen) a special issue of the journal Ethnos entitled “Economies of Growth or Ecologies of Survival ?”