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The Future and the Colonial Legacy: Through a Case Study of Disasters in South Korea and Japan

Sun, June 26, 3:00 to 4:50pm, Shikokan (SK), Floor: 1F, 119


In a world where disaster seems to have become a routinized experience for many, how can we speak about “hope”? How can we envision the “future” in the current global system of nation-state, capitalism, and representative democracy? Is it possible that such a power structure makes citizens more susceptible to the experience of disaster?
More than three hundred citizens – most of them high school students – died when the ferry Sewol sank off South Korea’s southwest coast on April 11, 2014. The deadly maritime disaster took place roughly three years after the 3.11 earthquake in Japan. I argue that we can observe a structural homology between the 3.11 in Japan and the 4.11 in South Korea in terms of the violence enacted by incapable nation-states. Some of the isomorphism, I further contend, is connected to the colonial legacy that still haunts both nations. Its symptoms include, as the unfolding of the two disasters vividly exposed, the abandonment of the “bare life,” maintenance of the status quo through the invention of “constituent exterior,” skeletonized representative democracy, and nation-state’s relentless violence. In the aftermath of these disasters, both Japan and South Korea also witnessed irresponsible state governance, violence of the mass media, public call for a forceful leader, and surge of fascist ultra-nationalism.
Given such parallels between the two nations, I ask in this paper how Japan and Korea can establish the “future,” not as the colonizer and the colonized in the past but as the same inheritors of the shared colonial legacy.