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Life/Death: The Jeju Genocide, Necropower, and South Korean Subimperialism

This volume narrates a social science history of the making of South Korea, i.e., an entity entangled with post-1945 US imperialism and the consequential division of the Korean peninsula. The volume emphasizes the penal experiences of “life/death,” the discrepancy between physiological and spiritual predicaments that the survivors, victims, and even perpetrators cannot escape. The “South” Korean people’s experiences of life/death were put in motion from the transformative historical event that the author calls “the Jeju Genocide,” which structured South Korean subimperialism from March 1947 onward. The genocide victims (aka., “communist anti-nationals”) became physiologically dead, but their specters have been constantly summoned as if they are still alive by the genocide perpetrators (including some of the subimperial elites). The genocide perpetrators physiologically lived for decades after the genocide. However, they lived as “living corpses” (drawn from Arendt), having lost their human spirit due to their persistent incapability of recognizing the other’s deaths due to their embodiment of South Korean subimperialism. The genocide survivors also have subsisted physiologically, but their spirits have been dead ever since they had to kill their communal selves of being Jeju Sareums (people), were uprooted from their homes and were forced to embody South Korean subimperialism. Beyond critiquing “South” Korean people’s own agency (hence responsibility) in the entrenchment of US imperialism, it questions whether the transitional justice process can undo the structural oppression encroached from the foundational violence. Rather, advocated in this volume is a form of subaltern politics that is closer to womanist and is definitely anti-masculinist. Theoretically, it speaks alongside Moon-Kie Jung, Patrick Wolfe, Achille Mbembe, Hannah Arendt, and Gayatri Spivak, among others. It employs a variety of historical methods, including contextualization of archival text, investigation of oral history materials with taxonomical sensibility, and extrapolation of the subaltern group’s agentic silence. It contributes to the burgeoning postcolonial turn of critical criminology and state crime scholarship. In the criminological term, a criminal empire-state (e.g., the US) instigates the emergence of other criminal states (e.g., South Korea), argued in this volume.
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