Combining the perspectives of cultural geography and Korean studies, my project seeks to better problematize what I call the “Korean world” (North and South Korea, and the Korean diaspora) by entering the urban terrain comparatively.
That North and South Korea greatly diverge is only too well-known by both the common and scientific knowledge – and that is true for urban things and society, especially at the international or national scale. Yet locally, I rather observe the convergence: the importance of apartments as housing form, the planning and use of public parks, where having a picnic (sop’ung) is a popular Sunday event for middle class families, the rehabilitation of the riverbanks in Seoul and Pyongyang, the importance of new history museums that tell a different story of the nation. At all those intertwined levels of urban space and practice, comparison is triggering questions about how the fabric of cities articulates with two societies that share a common urban history on the longue durée but chose radically opposite ways to modernize and urbanize since the division occurred midway through the 20th century.
How to embark in a creative comparative study of the meaningful divergence and convergence that North and South Korea urban societies display?
During my stay at IIAS, I hope to make progress on this question by developing the three following topics (discourse, object, networks):
- Discourse: analyzing scholarly geographical discourses on capitals in South Korea, I question how that the Korean case challenges the usual understanding of the capital as a single static center and the matrix/product of the territorial dynamics of nation-states (paper in the making);
- Object: in the second topic, I focus on the development since 2003 of an urban mega-project (Songdo City in South Korea), studying residential neighborhoods where the planning of housing and public spaces meets the actual daily practices of the original residents. What does it mean to live in a mega-project in the making? What does it tell us about the society where such project emerges?
- Networks: the final aim is grounded on very long term efforts to prepare the ground for a first comparative (collaborative) seminar dealing with the architecture and planning terminology in North Korea: how do actors speak of the city in North Korea? What does it tell us about the making of the city in North Korea?
For more about my activities and publication, see my EHESS webpage here: http://crc.ehess.fr/index.php?170