Shinjung Nam

Shinjung Nam’s research interests concern colonial and post-colonial histories of intellectual culture and formation of popular social movements, as well as today’s knowledge productions carried on by diverse groups of social agents. She has been tracing recent politicization of education from above and below in South Korea, from state officials to untenured scholars of philosophy in connection to the universities’ elimination of their humanities disciplines and the State promotion of a “Humanities Spirit Culture” outside the higher educational system. She situates participation of the Korean state in what the World Bank has called “Global Knowledge Revolution” and transition to a knowledge-based economy in the dynamics of geopolitics where diverse institutions and discursive regimes compete for the authority to evaluate and govern worldwide knowledge production. She pays close attention to the intersection of South Korean working adults’ pursuit of political theory in the after-work hours and the financially precarious academics’ formation of humanities education for the wider public outside of academe. Her current research examines how these two groups organize their studies, how they experiment with pedagogy and power, and how and why, in particular, the alumni of the 1980s Marxist student activism participate in these grassroots humanities today. By engaging with anthropological studies of initiation rituals and transgression, translation and social change, fetish and recognition, and kinship relations that produce time, she inquires following problems. How do non-academic adult-students imagine nation and transnationalism by reading foreign theory? How do they mediate and give flesh to the doubly foreign literature—Korean academic translations of “western” theory—to critique the state and make sense of their changing self? And how might one theorize about their humanities studies taking place in the dark, if not underground, throughout the participants’ “favorite places to hang out” or in Korean agit, taken from the term agitpunkt meaning underground centers of political propaganda in Russian? Not limited to the South Korean context her inquiries extend to other historical and contemporary examples of collective reading and translation, (trans)formation of political identity, and interactions between the ethical (practice of self) to the political (exercises in power).