Cultural Studies Rewriting a Rare Autoethnography of a Camp Survivor in Modernizing South Korea

Mr Gyu Chan Jeon1

1Korea National University Of Arts

This is a story of a boy who luckily survived and escaped from a detention center named the Brotherhood Welfare Center. It becomes a history about the semi-concentration camp(s) in the specific conjuncture of the 1970’s military-authoritarian state of South Korea. That story or history, however, has long been excluded and rejected by the two dominant discourses of (leftist) democratization and (rightist) industrialization. The author, a critical cultural studies scholar, happened to encounter Mr. Han, and their dialogue, as an expression of that horrible memory, exposed a critical hole in collective historiography of modern Korea. Another, hidden (hi)story of Korean modernity was formed, and this alternative narration raised an important question of whether ‘Auschwitz’ was over already. Based on the thoughts and philosophies of G. Agamben, Z. Bauman as well M. Foucault, this paper discusses specific conditions, particularly the formation of the oppressive apparatus of exclusion, containment and even genocide in contemporary Korea. How have certain segment of the population experienced a wasted life, and how have the encamped suffered but survived? What should we learn from it? The paper will stress the important task of cultural studies to engage with the survivors and to incorporate their stories into histories.


Gyu Chan Jeon received Ph.D from University of Wisconisn, Madison on journalism. Interested also on communication philosophy and critical cultural studies, he has widely written articles and book chapters on the issues of post-journalist writing, urban space, inter-Asiatic history, etc. He is currently teaching at Korea National University of Arts.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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