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Lipstick and Teargas
Police Violence and the Cultural Economy of Neoliberalism in South Korea
Thursday, April 27, 2006
3:00 PM - 5:00 PM
243 Royce Hall
The UCLA Center for Korean Studies presents
Lipstick and Teargas: Police Violence and the Cultural Economy
of Neoliberalism in South Korea
By Professor Jong Bum Kwon, UCOP Post-Doctoral Fellow in Korean Studies
I examine the social-cultural processes of democratization and neoliberal market formation in post-authoritarian South Korea through the analysis of new tactics of policing labor protest implemented after the Asian Financial Crisis (1997). This presentation is based on eighteen months of ethnographic research of the “Daewoo Motor Union Struggle against Redundancy Dismissals,” a long and violent standoff with the state that began when 1750 production workers from the Bupyŏng factory (located in an industrial city west of Seoul) were laid-off (2001). I begin with the proposition that violence may be understood as a form of social memory. State violence, particularly as it is embodied by riot police and tear gas, conjures memories of military dictatorship. The new policing tactics are practices of producing cultural amnesia and imagining the state as "new", modern, and democratic. I examine, for example, the "lipstick line", an unarmed and all female police company deployed to patrol labor protest venues. The "lipstick line" represents the gentle, non-violent face of the state, in stark contrast to the all male, armed and black-clad riot police. It creates the image of the police, and by extension, the state as rational, peaceful and disinterested institutions that function through modern democratic conventions and the rule of law as opposed to arbitrary violence and terror. These practices, moreover, reconfigure the relationship between victim and perpetrator. The "new" state is the victim and "militant" labor is the perpetrator. As the instigators of violence, labor was identified as an unruly remnant of the authoritarian past threatening the new economy. Democratization and neoliberal market formation coincided in Korea, and the management of memories of violence has been crucial to refashioning the state as the guardian of democracy as well as the market.
This lecture is part of the ongoing Korea Colloquia series of lecture.
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