Virtual Symposium Making and Unmaking of the Speculative City: Urban Politics in South Korea

***Please REGISTER for this Virtual Symposium HERE by November 3, 2020.

Morning Session

9:00-9:10am Welcome remark by Hyun-Ok Park (York)

9:10-9:20am Introduction to the Symposium: Hae Yeon Choo (U of Toronto)

9:20-10:30am Keynote Speech
Chair: Yewon Lee (George Washington University)
Discussant: Laam Hae (York University)

Hyun Bang Shin (LSE) “Whither Progressive Urban Futures? Critical Reflections on the Politics of Temporality in Asia”

Evening Session

6:00-7:15pm Panel 1: The Making of the Speculative City: Past and Present
Chair: Yoonkyung Lee (U of Toronto)
Discussant: Hyun Bang Shin (LSE)

Hyun-Chul Kim (U of Toronto) “Juxtaposing Biopolitics with Speculative Urbanisms: The Development of Private Welfare/Health Institutions in South Korea”

Seung-Cheol Lee (Seoul National University) “Seeing Like a Community Entrepreneur: The Capitalization of ‘Community’ in Seoul’s Community Building Project (maul mandulgi)”

7:15-7:30pm Break

7:30-8:45pm Panel 2: The Unmaking of the Speculative City
Chair: Hyun-Chul Kim (U of Toronto)
Discussant: Jesook Song (U of Toronto)

Laam Hae (York) “Toward a Dialectical Vision of Planetary Urbanization: Ecological Pro-Greenbelt Movements against the Construction State in Korea”

Yewon Lee (George Washington University) “Precarious Workers in the Speculative City: Making Worker’s Power of Self-Employed Tenant Shopkeepers in Seoul through the Production of Space”

Symposium Participant Bios 

Hae Yeon Choo is an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto. She is an author of Decentering Citizenship: Gender, Labor, and Migrant Rights in South Korea (Stanford University Press, 2016), a comparative study of three groups of Filipina women in South Korea: factory workers, wives of South Korean men, and hostesses at American military camptown clubs. Her current research examines the politics of land ownership in contemporary South Korea, delving into macro-level political contestations over land rights, together with the narratives of people who pursue class mobility through real estate speculation. She has also translated Audre Lorde’s Sister Outsider and Patricia Hill Collins’s Black Feminist Thought into Korean.

Laam Hae is an Associate Professor in the department of Politics at York University. Her research areas are urban political economy, neoliberal urbanism and urban social movements. She is the author of The Gentrification of Nightlife and the Right to the City: Regulating Spaces of Social Dancing in New York (2012, Routledge), and co-edited On the Margins of Urban South Korea: Core Location as Method and Praxis (2019, University of Toronto Press). She is currently developing a research project that examines the spatiality of social reproduction and gender inequality in South Korea.

Hyun-Chul Kim is a PhD Candidate at the Department of Geography & Planning, University of Toronto. Her research interests include the varied degree of confined, segregated spaces in East Asian regions, from nursing homes to prisons, considering urban constructions, intimacy, and disability. She is writing her dissertation tentatively titled “Between Communal ‘Village’ and an Atomized ‘Home’: Blurring the boundaries of community organization movement and segregated-confined welfare spaces of South Korea in 1950s-1960s”.

Seung Cheol Lee received his PhD from Columbia University in 2018 and is now an assistant professor of anthropology at Seoul National University. His research interests are focused on the question of how neoliberal financialization has reshaped people’s social, affective, ethical, and political lives. He is currently working on a book manuscript that examines how the ethicality and sociality of gift-giving are grafted onto neoliberal market rationality in the social economy sector in South Korea.

Yewon Andrea Lee is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Institute for Korean Studies at George Washington University. As a political and labor sociologist and urban ethnographer, Yewon is broadly interested in how speculative real estate interests increasingly dictate the shape and character of urban landscapes and how, in response, ordinary people organize everyday space and practice politics of dissent. Her dissertation, Precarious Workers in the Speculative City: The Untold Gentrification Story of Tenant Shopkeepers’ Displacement and Resistance in Seoul, examines how tenant shopkeepers, who are often labeled as either micro-entrepreneurs or petit bourgeoisie and overlooked as workers, are emerging as agents of social change. She sheds light on the fascinating case of tenant shopkeepers in Seoul organizing to expose the precarity of their livelihoods and, along the way, finding their collective voice as workers.

Yoonkyung Lee is an associate professor in the Department of Sociology and the director of the Center for the Study of Korea at the University of Toronto. She is a political sociologist specializing in labor politics, social movements, political representation, and the political economy of neoliberalism with a regional focus on East Asia. She is the author of Militants or Partisans: Labor Unions and Democratic Politics in Korea and Taiwan (Stanford University Press 2011) and numerous journal articles that appeared in Globalizations, Studies in Comparative International Development, Asian Survey, Journal of Contemporary Asia, and Critical Asian Studies.

Hyun Ok Park teaches sociology and the director of the Korean Office for Research and Education (KORE) at York University. With archival and ethnographic research, her research investigates global capitalism in colonial, industrial, and financial forms, democracy, socialism, and post-socialist transition. She is the author of Two Dreams in One Bed: Empire, Social Life, and the Origins of the North Korean Revolution in Manchuria (Duke University Press, 2005). Her latest book is The Capitalist Unconscious: From Korean Unification to Transnational Korea (Columbia University Press, 2015)She is completing a book manuscript, “A Sublime Disaster: The Sewŏl Ferry Incident and the Politics of the Living Dead.”

Hyun Bang Shin is Professor of Geography and Urban Studies and Director of the Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre at LSE. His research centres on the critical analysis of the political economic dynamics of urbanisation with particular attention to cities in Asian countries such as China, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam, and Singapore. His research themes include speculative urbanisation; the politics of redevelopment; displacement; gentrification; housing; the right to the city; mega-events as urban spectacles; mega-projects. He has published widely in major international journals and contributed to numerous books on the above themes. His books include Global Gentrifications: Uneven Development and Displacement (Policy Press, 2015); Planetary Gentrification (Polity Press, 2016)Anti Gentrification: What is to be Done (Dongnyok, 2017); Neoliberal Urbanism, Contested Cities and Housing in Asia (Palgrave Macmillan, 2019).

Jesook Song is Professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Her research focuses on contemporary urban transformation and welfare issues, including homelessness, youth unemployment, single women’s housing, mental health in South Korea. She is author of South Koreans in the Debt Crisis: The Creation of a Neoliberal Welfare Society (Duke University Press, 2009) and Living on Your Own: Single Women, Rental Housing, and Post-Revolutionary Affect in Contemporary South Korea (SUNY Press, 2014), On the Margins of Urban South Korea: Core Location as Method and Praxis(University of Toronto Press 2019, co-edited with Laam Hae).

This event is organized by Hae Yeon Choo (University of Toronto).
This event is presented by the Korean Office for Research and Education (KORE) at York University which is funded by the Academy of Korean Studies. It is co-presented by the Centre for the Study of Korea (University of Toronto). It is co-sponsored by School of Cities (University of Toronto).

For more information: ||

Professor Yoonkyung Lee profiled in University of Toronto’s Faculty of Arts & Science News

Sociology Professor Yoonkyung Lee was recently featured in an interview by U of T’s Faculty of Arts & Science News. The interview explores Professor Lee’s research on the labour conditions and political processes in Korea, as well as her role as the Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies. Professor Lee is an Associate Professor of Sociology with teaching responsibilities at the St. George campus. She is a political sociologist with research interests in labour politics, social movements, and political representation.

We have posted an excerpt of the article below.

The politics of precarious labour and democracy in Korea

November 3, 2017   |  Diana Kuprel

You trace the historical formation of political opposition in Korea. What is unique about Korean society and political life?

Our understanding of democratic politics is hugely pre-defined by the political experience of Western societies. We work with presumed notions, such as modern political systems emerging with industrialization, political pluralism exercised by political parties, and civil society buttressing micro-level democratic processes. By doing so, we often make the mistake of assuming that if something is “different” from the “Western standard,” democracy is an aberration and deficient.

Over the years of my comparative study of political development in non-Western societies like Korea and Taiwan, I have come to learn that they need to be approached on their own terms. Politics in these societies cannot be understood without the historical legacies of colonialism, war and national division, which have set a different terrain for the creation of democratic politics. My task as a scholar is to identify the different trajectories and to explain what this “difference” adds to our knowledge of politics, democracy and social change.

In this sense, Korea presents an intriguing case, with a strong state, a contentious social movement, and relatively weak political parties. These three actors have formed a unique political dynamic under which political stability and predictability are hard to come by. The political force that seizes state power strives to use the overarching authority. Vocal social movements mobilize to contest the excessive state. And political parties are unable to harness the conflicting interests into the formal political process. It is this very dynamic that creates sporadic historical moments when people mobilize, become politically enlightened, directly participate, and make a drastic change in the course of politics. The phenomenal protest that occurred in Korea over several months in 2016 and 2017 led to the formal impeachment of the incumbent president Park Geun-hye—there is no better example that shows the unique political dynamic of Korea.

Read the full article here.

Welcome New Faculty

This year the Department of Sociology welcomes ten new faculty members into our community of scholars. This is the largest cohort of new faculty members we have seen in decades. They cover research and teaching interests ranging from classical theory to criminology and immigration studies and will help shape the character of the department in the years to come. Though housed across the three campuses, all faculty join together in contributing to the tri-campus graduate department.

Professor Ellen Berrey joins the faculty at the University of Toronto, Mississauga teaching in the area of Law and Society. She graduated with a PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University in 2008 and has previously taught at the University at Buffalo, SUNY and at the University of Denver.

Professor Irene Boeckmann is a new faculty member in Family and Demography, teaching at the St. George campus. Professor Boeckmann completed her PhD at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst in 2014 and spent 2015 as a post-doctoral fellow at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center in Germany.

Professor Emine Fidan Elcioglu brings her expertise in political sociology and immigration to the University of Toronto at Scarborough. Professor Elcioglu received her doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley in 2016.

Professor Steve G. Hoffman received his PhD at Northwestern University in 2009 and taught for several years at the University at Buffalo, SUNY before coming to the University of Toronto at Mississauga. Professor Hoffman teaches in the area of social theory and the sociology of disaster.

Professor Rachel La Touche comes to the University of Toronto at St George this year where she is teaching in the areas of research methods and inequality. She received her PhD from Indiana University-Bloomington in 2016 and has previously taught at the University of Mannheim-Germany and at the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research(ICPSR) Summer Program at the University ofMichigan.

Professor Yoonkyung Lee joins the faculty at the University of Toronto, St. George. Professor Lee received her PhD at Duke University in 2006 and has previously taught at Binghamton University. Professor Lee is a political sociologist with a focus on Korean studies.

Professor Sida Liu is a new faculty member at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Professor Liu is a specialist in the sociology of law. He received his PhD from the University of Chicago in 2009. Before coming to Toronto, Professor Liu taught at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also currently a Faculty Fellow at the American Bar Foundation and a Member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Professor Akwasi Owusu-Bempah received his doctorate in 2014 from the Centre for Criminology and Socio-legal Studies here at the University of Toronto, Mississauga. Before coming back to Toronto, Professor Owusu-Bempah taught for a year at the Indiana University, Bloomington. Professor Owusu-Bempah is a specialist in policing and race.

Professor Kim Pernell comes to the University of Toronto, St. George with expertise in economic sociology, organizational sociology and social policy. Professor Pernell received a PhD in Sociology from Harvard in 2016.

Professor Ashley Rubin joins the faculty at the University of Toronto, Mississauga bringing expertise in the sociology of punishment and prisons. Professor Rubin received her PhD from the University of California, Berkeley in 2013 and previously taught at Florida State University.