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  • Forging a Modern Democratic Imaginary:Police Sovereignty, Neoliberalism, and the Boundaries of Neo-Korea

This article examines the formation of “Neo-Korea”—the constitution of the social and political imaginary of the present as a radical break from the dark past. Democracy and neoliberalism, dominant imaginaries of contemporary Korea, required forgetting. This article shows how new tactics of policing protest initiated in 2000, in the still-churning wake of the financial crisis, actively reprogrammed social memory, dramatizing a Korea of democracy and free markets. The analysis reveals the complex entanglement of biopolitics and sovereignty: the administration of neoliberal subjects and the banishment of those unfit for the new Korea. Their combined deploy the threshold of normative inclu-—ment constituted a politics of the new sion into the new Korea and the dramatic refashioning of the guise of the state. Contrary to the Foucauldian telos of the transition from a premodern theater of state power to the biopolitical technologies of modern liberal governmentality, the article demonstrates the continued salience of theatrical sovereignty in the formation of modern democratic imaginaries.

Commenting on the cultural-political scene in early 1990s South Korea (hereafter, Korea), anthropologist and feminist cultural critic Cho Han Hae-Joang remarked that there was a distinctly “lighter feeling.”1 Her description of a changed atmosphere indexed a “structure of feeling,” a sense of a changed quality of life emerging after the violent decades of harsh authoritarian rule and mass social unrest. Following the establishment of competitive electoral politics in 1987 and its confirmation with the election of a civilian president, Kim Young Sam, in 1992, there was indeed an apprehension of something new in the air—a new generation, a new epoch, a new Korea.

Scholars have come to describe contemporary Korea in terms of “posts”—postauthoritarian, post−Cold War, postideological, post-minjung—the prefix indicating a historical passage.2 Accordingly, Korea is said to have arrived at the obsolescence of the Manichean logic that informed the authoritarian [End Page 71] politics of successive regimes and its dissidents. Individualist desires for political recognition and consumer pleasure have displaced the aesthetics and affects of mass mobilization. In place of minjung and kungmin, the scene of arrival is populated by simin.3 Globalization, deep saturation of consumer capitalism, and democratic consolidation have dramatically brightened the social-political landscape, it appears.

Lightness, however, is a play on perception. The “Daewoo Struggle” (Daewoo T’ujaeng), the basis of this article, was marked by spectacular demonstrations of state violence.4 On February 19, 2001, an estimated eight thousand police, in full riot gear and aided by helicopter and tractors, stormed the Pup’yong factory, driving out approximately four hundred workers, some with their wives and children, who had occupied the production complex. Eighty-four men were caught and hauled away, even as their wives linked arms and faced the police rampage, desperate to slow the assault.5 On April 10, 2001, nearly fifteen hundred police blocked four hundred workers, who were accompanied by a union lawyer, from entering the union offices located within the factory walls. Three days prior, the regional court had ruled that the police blockade violated national labor laws, interfering with the union’s right to free association and assembly. When the men sat on the pavement, shirtless and defenseless (the posture, the lawyer explained, signaled peaceful intentions), police attacked, striking with long black truncheons, kicking with combat boots, and stabbing with the knife edge of their metal shields.

The scenes pose an apparent contradiction. Although alarming, the inconsistency isn’t simply the exercise of mass state violence in the context of Korea’s celebrated democratic consolidation. Numerous authors have written about the illiberal dimension of liberalism and the paradox of democracy, namely the suppression, often violent in form, of dissent and antagonism.6 Nor is the quandary a resurgence of violence. Recent research demonstrates that neither mass resistance nor violent state oppression has subsided since 1987; in fact, evidence suggests continued “decisive repression” of so-called militant labor unions and organizations.7 Rather, the puzzle comprises the copresence of that pervasive “lighter feeling” with the extravagant exhibition of state violence. In this article, I examine the formation of Neo-Korea—the constitution of the social-political imaginary of the present as a radical [End Page 72] break from the dark past.8 The “lightness” is an effect of cultural amnesia. Democracy and neoliberalism, dominant imaginaries of contemporary Korea, required forgetting. Cultural amnesia, however, is neither a gradual nor a natural process. As Michel Foucault well argued, it is a product of “obstruction” and “reprogramming.”9 Neo-Korea is an effect of a concerted politics of the “New.”

A significant aspect of this politics was the management of social memories of the authoritarian period; specifically, state violence. New tactics of policing protest, initiated in the still-churning wake of the financial crisis, actively reprogrammed social memory, dramatizing a new Korea of democracy and free markets. My analysis reveals the complex entanglement of biopolitics and sovereignty: the administration of neoliberal subjects and the banishment of those unfit for Neo-Korea. It is in their articulation that we may understand the copresence of lightness and spectacular displays of state violence.

Police violence did not undermine the new democratic imaginary but instantiated the double movement of sovereignty—the constitution of a normative order (democracy and neoliberalism) and the exception (militant labor). Police violence signaled not a retreat to authoritarianism but the purification of the new by the banishment of unruly rem(a)inders of the “old,” an enactment of boundary making as state theater.

Exceptions to Neoliberalism: Violent Memories, Sovereignty, and the Theater of the State

Unruly ghosts populate the scene of arrival. Avery Gordon argued for the theoretical import of ghosts; ghosts are not simply dead or missing persons but ciphers of an absent but “seething presence.”10 They are intimations of haunting, alerting us to unsettling but subtle disturbances in normative fields of perception. Ghosts gesture toward the provocation of erased and suppressed memories—the return of the dead and the ruins of modernity’s violence.11 To attend to ghosts, as she proposed, is not to submit to the irrational but rather to investigate the dialectic of presence and absence as a critical interrogation of the privilege of visibility and of epistemic violence. What is seen and not seen is in part a consequence of a politics of time, [End Page 73] selective deployment (and withdrawal) of technologies of observation and remembrance, including truth commissions, commemoration, and, pertinent here, state-police theater.12 Despite Korea’s apparent ever-forward, ever-new movement after its emergence from a history of political violence and terror, shadows perturbed Neo-Korea’s shine.

At the fin de siècle of Korea’s late modernity, there was heightened anxiety about cultural amnesia. A spate of academic literature documented the “barbarism” of Korea’s authoritarian regimes, often conspicuously framed as an injunction against forgetting.13 Others diagnosed symptoms of what has been described as Korea’s “compressed modernity.”14 Their critiques worried over the diminishing capacity for self-reflection, the ability to hold onto memory amidst the accelerated passage to liberal democracy and free markets. And from more radical quarters came attacks on the prematurity of the cultural mood for historical reconciliation as complicitous with a public will to forget.15 Ironically, such anxieties surfaced during a period of explosion in cultural memory. Popular media produced cinematic sites of memory, not only through the entertainment of formerly suppressed histories but also in the explicit examination of themes of remembrance and trauma.16 The production of cinematic memory, moreover, coincided with a proliferation of state-sanctioned acts of remembrance, including prosecution, compensation, fact finding, and memorialization.17 Regional-and national-level nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) also pressured for and contested state efforts, advocating on behalf of “victims” of state violence, many researching and publishing revised histories and testimonials.18

The paradoxical anxieties over amnesia index the depth of the wounds of Korea’s modernity and the cultural density of violence. Violence, Michel de Certeau stated, leaves a “mnemic trace,” ghostly remains that escape containment and domestication.19 Violence functions as social memory, its appearance opening a historic optic.20 It may be gestural or symbolic, as it often is in demonstrations. It can also be brutally corporeal, inflicted and suffered in clashes with police. In either instance, violence is performative. Acts of state violence call forth such moments of dissent and reprisal as the mass pro-democracy protests during the sweltering summer of 1987, when students and workers fought black-clad charging regiments of police. Violence is not merely instrumental action. Violence emplots a powerful epic [End Page 74] narrative of political injury (and redemption). Violence haunts the Korean political imaginary.

It would not be an exaggeration to describe contemporary Korean politics as preoccupied with memories of state violence. The erasure of violence from civil society is crucial in legitimizing the modernist trope of the progressive transition to modern democratic politics wherein the state at last keeps its hands off the body.21 Widespread state projects of recognition and memorialization were efforts to exorcise unruly ghosts, establishing an official terrain of memory meant to delimit when and how the past is seen and recalled.22 State incorporation of such tragic events as the Kwangju Uprising into the national memoryscape situated the current state within a progressive narrative and designated the present as the temporal limit of the authoritarian past and the current government as official guardian of the new democracy.23

Within this cultural-political context, the brazen character of the Daewoo violence is striking, all the more so as it was scrutinized by domestic and international media. The police assault in February was an overwhelming, disproportionate show of state violence. The April attack also saw an unrestrained, excessive demonstration of police violence; while less spectacular in scope—but no less brutal—it, too, was openly public, witnessed by neighbors and activists.

Such spectral presences (and the violence conjuring them) coexisting with that “lighter feeling” do not indicate failures of erasure so much as they reveal complex entanglements between biopolitics and sovereignty, the interplay between routine and ritual, invisibility and visibility, crucial to imagining state power and political subjecthood.24 Their entanglement confounds a conventional reading of the Foucauldian telos: the transition from the “premodern” exercise of coercive and theatrical sovereignty to the “dissociation of government from sovereignty” through the application of dispersed micro technologies of discipline and rationality.25 Thus rather than ritual politics of the body, the “democratized sovereign” defers to biopolitics. Biopolitics and sovereignty, however, have always been entwined. Giorgio Agamben postulates the inseparability of biopolitical and juridico-political models of power, maintaining that “inclusion of bare life in the political realm constitutes the original—if concealed—nucleus of sovereign [End Page 75] power. It can be said that the production of a biopolitical body is the original activity of sovereign power.”26 The incorporation of life within the biopolitical reach of sovereign rule produces a “surplus or by-effect,” an excess population deemed ungovernable or unworthy.27 Biopolitics and sovereignty do not constitute discordant temporalities but share an underlying root—the identification and abandonment of disqualified life.

In contemporary contexts in which neoliberalism has emerged as the predominant rationality of governance and self-governance, biopolitics and sovereignty, as Aihwa Ong demonstrates, are “yoked” to include and exclude populations from neoliberal calculation and evaluation and, consequently, from legitimate ethical and political communities. Economic competencies and rational, optimizing self-conduct constitute a threshold of normative inclusion.28 While Ong’s analysis focuses on emerging spaces of exception (e.g., free-trade zones), I highlight neoliberalism’s articulation with temporal logics and affects.

In Korea, neoliberalism was also a state project of historical overcoming, a “second nation building” founded on “straightening up history” (yŏksa para seugi). The state’s impetus for neoliberal reform may have been driven by the exigencies of declining global competitiveness and increased demands for economic liberalization (i.e., unprotected markets and labor flexibility), but its discourse appealed to deeply felt anxieties of national belatedness and the desire to “catch up.” The Kim Young Sam administration, for example, proclaimed that “segyehwa [globalization] entails rationalizing all aspects of life” and “reforms in every area”; in other words, “a sweeping transformation of society” that would “abolish all outmoded or unreasonable elements in society and in attitudes and behavior.”29 Economic reform (and attendant forms of neoliberal rationality) was tantamount to the rectification of history through the eradication of any remnants of the riotous past.

Rather than suppression and nationalist mobilization, the rationality of government encompassed expert management and administration in harnessing the population’s productive energies. The state, for example, accommodated and expanded support for NGOs and civic organizations, creating a competitive marketplace for outsourcing administrative functions and knowledge production. Historically vilified by the state, labor, too, was enlisted as a legitimate partner. Successive administrations sought to institute [End Page 76] “modern” methods of industrial management based on a participatory framework of law and “rationality.” The legalization of the “radical” Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and formation of the Tripartite Commission (No-Sa-Chŏng Wiwonhoe), a vehicle to negotiate the interests of labor and capital, reconfigured the state’s role. Those initiatives signaled the government’s commitment to break its historically collusive relationship with capital, thereby repositioning the state as neutral mediator of competing interests. The commission (as well as other public-private partnerships) may be understood as a neoliberal technology of governance constituting and disseminating calculative, self-regulating rationalities and procedures.

These changes dramatically restaged political dissent. There was a proliferation of organizations advocating on behalf of “ordinary citizens,” those without particular ideological stances but concerned with matters of quality of life (e.g., consumption, education, housing, and environment).30 Concomitantly, there was a narrowing of the field of political action and identity to law and rights. Newly self-identified moderate citizens’ movement groups, for example, emphasized that “they would lead a new generation of social movements,” publicly “reject[ing] class-based and confrontational strategies of the past in favor of a nonviolent, peaceful, and lawful movement style and specific policy alternatives.”31 The “street,” the symbolic space of oppositional politics, was replaced by the “court.” Rights-bearing subjects, whose individual liberties and protections are enacted through litigation, have arrived as privileged political subjects; as John and Jean Comaroff wrote about South Africa, another postcolony, “class struggles seem to have metamorphosed into class actions.”32

It is in this imagining that we might surmise the emergence of that “lighter feeling”—a social body regulated through freedom from the heavy hands of the state. “Ordinary” able members of the laboring population were freed to rule themselves according to rationalities of liberal democracy and the neoliberal market.33 Political dissent was incorporated within the liberal state, with the effect of the opposition’s self-regulation and self-discipline. We also witness the construction of the boundaries of the new polis. Democracy and neoliberalism, as forms of rationality and conduct, constituted a political category of belonging. The incorporation of dissent led to sharp distinctions between impermissible and permissible dissent, [End Page 77] between those of the past and those suitable for Neo-Korea. Understood as a politics of time, neoliberalism and democracy formed a temporal threshold of the new nation.

Daewoo workers and other “violent” protesters were by-products of the biopolitical regime and subject to sovereign violence. The apparent deference to biopolitics does not preclude rituals of sovereign power. As the Comaroffs have argued, the Foucauldian telos adheres to a modernist ideology of the triumph of rationality, which disassociates symbolic politics—(melo)dramas of power—from a politics of rationalization.34 Violence, in fact, materializes the state, animates its power. As many scholars of the anthropology of the state have also argued, the state is not a monolithic, essential form but an effect of social practices. As such, sovereign power is unstable and precarious, requiring repeated performances to demonstrate efficacy, including spectacular violence.35 Furthermore, following Agamben’s logic, the foundational exercise of sovereignty is the abandonment of disqualified life as the constitutive act of defining political community. Sovereign violence thus is not an instrumental act of exclusion but a performative one that defines the limits of belonging, the dialectic of inclusive-exclusion, that defines the function of bare life.

The extravagant quality of the Daewoo violence suggests an element of theatricality, an exemplary spectacle of state sovereignty. Particularly in postcolonial contexts in which democratic states have arisen from political bloodshed and terror, state violence is not effaced; the new state is often imagined in enactments and fantasies of violence.36 Violence is not so much effaced as “stage managed”—obstructed and reprogrammed. The sovereign state does not exit the stage but assumes other guises. Biopolitical technologies combine with sovereign performances to construct an imagining of a new social order.

Where massive dislocations have stoked anxieties of social disorder and insecurity, the state is called upon to present itself, often in violent and dramatic fashion; for example, amidst the palpable public preoccupation with crime, poverty, and joblessness (associated with structural adjustment) in Brazil and South Africa, the outcry was not for fewer police but more, even to the extent of condoning deadly force.37 In Korea, the financial crisis and International Monetary Fund (IMF)-mandated reforms resulted in [End Page 78] unprecedented levels of un-and under-employment, approaching 9 percent (2 million) according to official estimates, and closer to 20 million, according to private researchers. In public culture, the crisis played out as national melodrama. Memories of the Korean War and Japanese colonialism were invoked, indexing deep-seated anxieties over the loss of national sovereignty and moral bankruptcy of corporate and political leaders. Furthermore, stories about the imminent collapse of the “traditional family” fueled moral panic—grisly family suicides and murders, homeless fathers, mothers and daughters prostituting—indexing fears of dissolution of social order.

Herein lies the crux of the dialectic of order and disorder, biopolitical technologies and ritual state performances. In supposed crisis, the theater of the state opens its curtains, and the sovereign, seen to be besieged and impotent in the face of impending chaos, shows to be, at last, puissant. Spectacles of state power remain salient, making “palpable the power of the state, the thin blue line that, imaginatively, stands between anarchy and civility, the thin blue line that underscores the fragility of order and gives focus to popular preoccupations with the threat of social meltdown.”38 Popular fantasies of social disarray set the stage upon which agents of disorder are cast out by sovereign power, and the new order is imagined.

Neoliberalism and democracy are perceptual regimes and are mutually constituted by a combination of biopolitical and sovereign power. In Korea, they have been articulated with a politics of the new. During the financial crisis, so-called violent labor came to embody anachronisms. Laborers clinging to the class politics of the “old” regime were stamped by violence as the new primitive, the exception, to the modern, rational liberal-democratic nation. The spectacle of state violence against Daewoo workers was just that, a spectacular show of sovereignty dramatizing the banishment of the disorderly signs of the authoritarian period.

Neo-Politics and New Police Dramas

There is an element of ambiguity in popular as well as academic understandings of the police. In academic discussions influenced by Foucault, police is often deployed to describe dispersed nexuses of power/knowledge that regulate subjectivity and conduct. In these uses, as Mark Neocleous [End Page 79] argues, the concept is often divorced from physical violence and visible state power, despite long histories of brutality, intimidation, and humiliation administered on streets and in police stations.39 While policing, in the Foucauldian sense, may constitute micro-politics of power, it also entails conspicuous, visible violence. In the popular imagination, moreover, the police are overwhelmingly identified with criminal investigation and law enforcement. Recent research, however, demonstrates that it is more myth than reality: “Criminal law enforcement is something that most police officers do with the frequency located somewhere between virtually never and very rarely.”40 It has also become clear from other research that police have little control over crime prevention, ostensibly one of its prime mandates.41 Nonetheless, the police continue to occupy center stage in modern social imaginaries of social order and security.

What is to be made of the disjunction between actual police work and its prominence in the contemporary cultural imaginary? Peter Manning, noted police sociologist, described the fundamental character of police work as dramaturgical ritual.42 Of course, the police do police in the instrumental sense; they arrest, ticket, surveil, and, relevant here, exercise violence. Police work, however, also consists of performative enactments of symbolic power.43 Police presence and activities categorize and communicate authoritative meanings about the social-moral world; police actions—a traffic stop, a search, an arrest, an act of violence—draw a thin blue line between normality and deviance, dramatizing society’s cleavages and community’s exceptions.44 Animating a tense dialectic of social anxiety and security, policing performs symbolic boundaries of political and moral belonging.

In the wake of the financial crisis, new tactics of policing protest enacted a social drama that upended a narrative convention of modern dissident Korean history as heroic struggle, played out in the streets as a battle between the forces of democracy and military dictatorship. The “old” police were unquestionably the enemy, tainted by its deployment as paramilitary forces to repress political opposition and terrorize the public during the authoritarian as well as Japanese colonial period.45 Successive military regimes, lacking political legitimacy, continued to depend on the police to suppress resistance, quell social unrest, and enforce silence. The police were the primary agents of labor control and regulation. If economic development was the carrot, [End Page 80] the police truncheon was the stick, wielded openly to crack down on student, labor, and other dissident organizations and clandestinely in the service of terror (late night arrests, torture, and death).46 Clad in dark fatigues, armored and armed, paramilitary combat police (chŏnt’u kyŏngch’al) patrolling a zone of indistinction between domestic order and national defense represented the public persona of the violent and illegitimate state.47

The new Korea envisioned by Kim Dae-Jung would have new dramatis personae. Under Kim’s watch, Lee Moo Young was appointed commissioner general of the National Police Agency, who declared he would “‘recreate the Korean Police’ and ‘there will be no future for police officers who would not change his/her way of thinking’ and characterized the old police as a ‘totalitarian former USSR style police system.’”48 He initiated a comprehensive reform program to remake the “old” police fit for “Neo-Korea”: “Operation Grand Reform—One Hundred Days.”49

The commissioner launched a corporate-style marketing campaign centered on two mascots, Podori (male) and Posuni (female). Resembling smiling cartoon mice with disproportionately large faces, they were decidedly “cute” and unimposing, with big exaggerated eyes and ears, dimples, and round, brown noses. They were unarmed and wore blue hats and uniforms with white gloves. The big ears signified listening well to the public and the eyes seeing far for dangers and emergencies.50 Like that of any other marketing scheme, the characters inundated the cultural landscape: images were plastered on the walls of every police station, on every police notice board, on police stationery, on street signs, and so forth. Officers dressed in Podori and Posuni costumes greeted “customers” at police station gates and were dispatched to public events such as festivals and children’s parties (fig. 1).

Market ideologies clearly informed the cultural logic of the new police. Practices emphasized its service function and improving “customer satisfaction.”51 A public perception survey of the police revealed that respondents demanded customer-oriented policing with a “kinder attitude.”52 Although perhaps whimsical, the marketing campaign addressed that demand, and it was one of the most successful reform initiatives. The characters came to stand in as the brand image of the new police. In the marketplace of the service economy, the police, too, provided a service, and the public were consumers of that service. [End Page 81]

Figure 1. “Podori’s Profile”: an explanation of Podori’s symbolic meaning at an exhibit at the National Korean Police Museum. Clockwise from the top, the circles explain the large head, large ears, open arms, badge, “bright” smile, and large eyes.<br/><br/>Photo by author
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Figure 1.

“Podori’s Profile”: an explanation of Podori’s symbolic meaning at an exhibit at the National Korean Police Museum. Clockwise from the top, the circles explain the large head, large ears, open arms, badge, “bright” smile, and large eyes.

Photo by author

The most dramatic change in the policing of protest was the March 1999 formation of a 273-member, all-female police unit, euphemistically called the “lipstick line.”53 It was unprecedented in Korean police history. Feminism-inspired scholars have incisively described the authoritarian Korean nation-state as “hypermasculine.”54 Modernization, according to Park Chung Hee, architect of modern Korean nationalism, was war, which required the resurrection of the masculine state to revive the nation emasculated by colonialism and Cold War geopolitics. A hybrid form of aggressive capitalist development and Confucian patriarchal ideologies, the state institutionalized rigid gendered divisions of labor, exalting men’s productive and military capacities while demanding subservience from a feminized civil society answerable to the father/husband state that doled out privilege and exacted punishment. Men were charged with the honor and duty of defending the nation from enemies from without and within by means of universal [End Page 82] male conscription.55 If the police and military represent the face of the state, it clearly was a man’s.

The lipstick line introduced a feminine, gentle, and peaceful visage. According to the police commissioner, the lipstick line would replace teargas as an instrument of policing protest. Lee joked, “We are placing women on the front line. … There is no need for teargas. Maybe we’ll see teargas bombs replaced by makeup in our police stations.”56 His joke insinuates a discomfiting gendered logic—the replacement of bombs with makeup—the humor turning on the absurdity of equating makeup with bombs as a gross metonym of the incongruity of women in police stations. While increasing numbers of women serve in the force, it remains a decidedly masculine domain, wherein women are overwhelmingly relegated to duties seen suitable to their “inherent” feminine qualities of nurturance, kindness, and delicateness, tasks such as office administration, handling so-called female-related crimes (e.g., prostitution and domestic violence) and juvenile affairs. The “essential” factor in the persistence of gender inequality was women’s physical liabilities, that is, their lack of strength, endurance, and capacity to exercise violence.57 The lipstick line was not dispatched to protest venues to display force; rather, women’s “lack,” accentuated by their manikinlike presence, symbolized a reformed state, the obverse face of the all-male combat police (fig. 2).

Their similarity to Posuni is arresting. Although the women were in police uniform, what was highlighted was not the office but their gendered identity as courteous service providers. They wore pressed black slacks, white or blue shirts with black ties, and matching colored hats with gold embroidery and badges. Fitting the moniker, their lips were prominently painted with varying hues of lipstick. They were unarmed and wore immaculate white gloves. The gloved hands powerfully invoked popular gendered images of courteous service-women office workers, bank tellers, or upscale department store greeters. At demonstrations, the lipstick line was stationed at the edge of assembled crowds in long single rows; holding bright orange police tape, they formed a cordon separating protest from general civilian activity. Instead of violent dispersal, this new strategy contained protests within the bounded space of women’s bodies.

The lipstick line transformed protest venues into gendered stages upon [End Page 83] which male protestors were marked and regulated. At demonstrations, I often asked workers, “Could you ever push against the lipstick line, fight women?” The men usually smiled sheepishly and then laughed, remarking that as men they would be embarrassed to touch let alone fight with them. Men are much stronger, they demurred, giving a look intimating the sexual impropriety of fighting women. Men acted with a high degree of awareness of the public’s opinion of them and understood that aggressive actions against the lipstick line would only reaffirm their reputation as uneducated and lacking in moral self-control. The lipstick line was an effective strategy; as the commissioner remarked, “One female officer on the frontline is equivalent to ten male officers in riot gear.”58

Figure 2. “Police Line”: The sign on the police bus reads, “Police Line! Another Name for Beautiful Order.”<br/><br/>Photo by author
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Figure 2.

“Police Line”: The sign on the police bus reads, “Police Line! Another Name for Beautiful Order.”

Photo by author

If the lipstick line, by its presence, transformed the masculine, military image of the police, then teargas, by its absence, concealed from public view the spectacle of state violence. Through the 1990s, acrid teargas smoke was [End Page 84] ubiquitous; it might be said of Korea then, where there was smoke there was a demonstration. The use of teargas, shot either from black armored trucks with roof-mounted guns or hand-held air rifles, created a violent image of the police in the social imaginary. Labor and former student activists frequently commented on the sight, sound, and smell of exploding teargas canisters. Teargas smoke clung to their memories. The death of Han-Yol, a Yonsei University student killed by teargas bomb fragments in June 1987, galvanized dissident forces and mobilized, if only briefly, the middle class during the June Uprising (1987). Smoke permeated a moment in history.

Figure 3. “Combat Police.”<br/><br/>Photo by Author
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Figure 3.

“Combat Police.”

Photo by Author

According to my discussions with a police official and representatives from the Korean Employers Federation (KEF), and from newspaper accounts, Korea’s achievement of democracy could be measured by the number of shot teargas canisters. In 1996, 210,000 canisters were fired; in 1997, 130,000; in 1998, only 3,400; and in 1999, 0 canisters were fired. In published interviews and newspaper reports, the police commissioner habitually [End Page 85] repeated those dates and numbers with the final triumphant claim that the police did not once use teargas since 1999, as if those declining numbers were a countdown to a peaceful and orderly democratic society.

The combat police, to be sure, were not disbanded. As the Daewoo case reminds us, it remained a potent weapon in the state’s arsenal against a particular vision of social disorder. Current estimates counted sixty thousand combat police.59 They were still dispatched to suppress so-called militant, violent participants. But, in heavily populated public settings, the police were careful to conceal their presence.

The combat police did not generally intrude into the contained space of protest venues. Confrontation occurred, rather, during the marches through the streets, as large throngs of laborers and activists threatened to break containment. Combat police were often stationed at specific points along the designated marching route to block the mass of protesters from surging across police lines and parading toward the US embassy building, City Hall, and other symbolic sites. I often saw them in subway entrances, as if hiding. Combat police were strategically deployed to minimize the menace of state violence, veiled by the peaceful front of the lipstick line.

This tactic of concealment was plainly evident at several Daewoo union demonstrations. At one demonstration staged at General Motor’s main dealership and corporate offices in central Seoul, we had formed ranks on the short lawn in front of the tinted blue-glass building.60 As we readied for the start, I felt anxious, perturbed not by the presence of police but by their absence; there was usually some kind of police presence. But staring closely through the panes, I saw them. They were there, inside, hiding behind the tinted glass facade, in full combat gear, only a few feet away from us. I walked around the building and spied several officers standing near a side entrance, as if gauging when to come out of hiding. All that passersby saw were union members, pumping their fists, chanting, and singing next to the stolid edifice. They glanced disinterestedly and continued on. There really was nothing happening, nothing to see.

The police project is one of social ordering, the classification and distribution of people and things to their proper places and functions.61 Social order is a police effect, a product of state sovereignty that organizes and sets the perceptual limits of the normative community. Jacques Rancière, a theorist [End Page 86] concerned with the aesthetics of politics, wrote, “Police intervention in public space is less about interpellating demonstrators than it is about dispersing them … The police are above all a certitude about what is there, or rather, about what is not there: ‘Move along, there’s nothing to see.’”62 Policing constitutes antipolitics—quarantining and covering up disruption and dissent. “Nothing is happening.” Practices of concealing violence also constitute a form of cultural amnesia. “Nothing has happened.” The deployment of police in and around protest venues cordoned off disorder and inhibited the intrusion of undesirable memory onto the bright facade of Neo-Korea.

There was a new sheriff in town. The cartoon mascots, lipstick line, and teargas policy constituted three of the more visible transformations in policing protest since the financial crisis. Combined with practices of concealment, these transformations created images of the police, and by extension, the state, as rational, peaceful, and disinterested institutions that function through modern rationalities and rules as opposed to arbitrary violence. The lipstick line and mascots made visible Neo-Korea while masking the continuity of past and present violence. And the cessation of teargas rendered invisible the persistence of violence in the present.

Banishment and the Rule of the Market

The protagonist of Agamben’s analysis of sovereignty and biopolitics is homo sacer, the embodiment of bare life, a figure of legal, cultural, and moral nakedness. Bare life is not an initial condition of exclusion; it is a consequence of banishment, being cast out and stripped of moral, political, or customary qualifications of belonging. Banishment is a sovereign response to threats to the normative order. As Steven DeCaroli explains, “Banishment, far from being mere punishment for a crime, is enacted when an individual life is deemed virulent to the community.”63 Protesting workers were figures of banishment, marked by their “violence” as new primitives. Workers, as potential neoliberal subjects, were included in the normative order of Neo-Korea, but as “violent” agitators, they were viewed as threats to the rationality and order of the newly democratized and neoliberal nation.

The production of images of an orderly society organized around rational calculation and market rule is an integral dimension of neoliberal “rationality”- [End Page 87] the mystification of the market as aesthetic object and agent that procures investment, credit, tourism, and so on. Scenes of labor protest erupting in the streets marred the image of social order and consequently devalued the national economy, undermining investor confidence and deterring foreign investment. Amidst the sharp rise in labor unrest during the crisis, leading international and domestic financial journals and newspapers loudly complained that in the current violence-ridden climate of industrial relations in Korea, foreign investors would assume too great a risk. The number of work hours lost, declining rate of industrial productivity, and damage to company property related to union actions were regularly calculated as a monetary deficit to the national economy and publicized in the news media. The actuality of labor violence, not to mention the culpability of the state, was less damning than disruptive to the state’s neo-drama, its performance of the realization of democracy and the free market. After the violence of April 10, an official from Chŏng Wa Tae (Blue House, official residence of the president) worried, “Should one look at the television footage of the police crackdown on Daewoo workers on CNN … he or she would think that police brutality remains part of life in Korea.”64 Even the president’s pronouncement on the crackdown chastised the police not for violence per se but for tarnishing new history. He stated, “The police have contributed to bringing the country’s human rights up to an international level, for instance, by forsaking the use of teargas in handling protesters. … However, police should cherish the new history it is making.”65

In what may be seen as a national sales pitch, President Kim Dae Jung quickly assured potential investors that the government was taking stern measures to make Korea “the most attractive, the most comfortable place in the world to invest in.” He stated that his government would not tolerate union violence, and that the recent violent police confrontations with labor were “isolated and in no way [comparable] to the widespread violence before he was elected.” To illustrate his point, he repeated the refrain of diminishing numbers of shot teargas canisters.66

The expulsion of violent labor from the imaginary of the new rational society was made clear in an interview I conducted with officials from the KEF labor-relations team. The senior official admitted that violence didn’t [End Page 88] disappear. “Pangp’ae (shield), chinappong (truncheon) … it is not that those things don’t exist,” he stated; but he emphasized that changes had been made, and he referred to the lipstick line and new teargas policy. These policies, he continued, “show the effort the police have made” to “ride the winds of change” and to follow “the people’s fervent desire for democracy.” He contended that these tactical changes in policing protest were manifestations of a fundamental transformation in police culture. The official proclaimed, “Police serve the people of the nation; the police are, now, public ch’ungbok (dutiful servants).”67

In the new rational order of policing, it is, in fact, “illogical” to attribute violence to the police. If violence is used, it is of a different quality; it is rational and applied in defense of law. It is labor, he emphasized, that must change. Labor must become less violent, and unions must follow the principles of the rule of law. He argued that labor culture hadn’t changed in the past fifty years. While the police had taken strides to remove themselves from the past and turn into an institution of law and order to keep in step with national progress, labor remained behind, out of place and out of time with the new order. “They are still too violent,” he punctuated.

An official from the National Police Agency gave a blunter assessment. He commented throughout our conversation about “labor’s irrationality and emotional volatility” with the presumption of commonsense. He complained that the rank-and-file were uneducated and thus acted out of emotion rather than reason; hence they were easily exploited by union leaders who manipulated their anger to suit personal ambitions. They were prone to violent behavior.68

The contrast between police and labor could not have been more clearly stated, nor could the temporal logic that informed my interviewees’ judgment. The mascots, lipstick line, and termination of teargas use manifested the new police order of rationality, consumer-oriented service, and faithful obedience to law. Workers who fought to retain their jobs, on the other hand, were irrational, uneducated, unable to think for themselves, and easily herded into volatile masses. They were anathema to the neoliberal subjectivity requisite to Neo-Korea—individual autonomy and responsibility. They were anachronisms, outcasts of the new order, violent and unmanageable [End Page 89] vestiges of the past. As the unarmed and white-gloved lipstick line formed a spatial border around the limits of permissible protest, they drew a virtual boundary between modern and premodern subjects.

Ghosts of Kwangju

Images of unarmed, half-naked workers writhing helplessly on the pavement invoked memories of Kwangju. I heard many spontaneously exclaim “Kwangju” during demonstrations, or as they saw video or still-shots exhibited at the union’s headquarters and church sanctuary: “Kwangju! It’s a second Kwangju! Can that be the police, can that be right?” Workers also intoned “Kwangju” like an incantation. They summoned ghosts to appear, constituting a transhistorical communal experience and refuting state pronouncements of a new Korea. April 10 was one more example in a still-continuing history of police brutality.69

The work of cultural amnesia began soon after. The National Police Agency and National Assembly officially declared the violence an accident. The violence, while deplorable, was but an unfortunate mistake that happened while police were justifiably protecting the factory from illegal protesters who threatened destruction of private property. By labeling April 10 an accident, the state contained the violence within discourses of law and order and simultaneously controlled the representation and reconstruction of events. Violence may accompany restructuring in the making of new markets, but it is merely an unforeseen and unfortunate, yet temporary, side effect incited by reactive forces that stubbornly and traditionally cling to the past.70 It was a passing disruption, an exception and not the rule. None of the police received official punishment. Nor did the injured laborers receive remuneration from the state. What they did get was an apology from the president. The apology may have signified a degree of guilt and recognized wounded workers as victims, but it also fixed the violence in the past.71 The case was closed with a gesture of heartfelt regret—even as that gesture reaffirmed the democratic and compassionate credentials of the new regime.

The state neutralized and localized the Daewoo violence as an occurrence of a single day, effectively erasing all traces of violence prior to and after the “accident.” Already missing from the account was the vicious eviction [End Page 90] of workers and family members from the factory on February 19, 2001. There were no apologies for those harmed, for the terror spread, and there was no remorse for the thousands bereft of their livelihood, for their invisible wounds—broken families, social stigma, and emotional anguish. The most spectacular scene of state violence had already receded from official memory and responsibility. If April 10 was an accident that solicited contrition, the February assault, transparently intentional, required no such act of recognition. For the assault was a theater of state power, demonstrating to domestic and international audiences the state’s willingness to enforce mass layoffs and banish violent and irrational elements from Neo-Korea.

As I move toward conclusion, I would like to turn to a couple of dialectical images. Walter Benjamin wrote, “It isn’t that the past casts its light on the present or the present casts its light on the past: rather, an image is that in which the Then and Now come into a constellation like a flash of lightning.”72 Dialectical images conjure the past into the present. The past and present held in momentary tension, like a disorienting flash of memory, dialectical images disquiet notions of historical progress.

At demonstrations, Daewoo workers passed out pamphlets with photos of their wounded. As they marched through the streets, they also offered their own bodies. The presentation of broken and bloody bodies as bearers of state violence was a form of conjuring that refuted Korea’s progress. As many of my informants vehemently asserted, “Nothing has changed. It is the same, as it has been. History had stopped.” Evidence of sovereign power was written on their bodies, the bruises and gashes received at the hands and feet of the police. Their bodies, marked by state violence, performed, recalled other bodies. Theirs were the bodies of countless men and women beaten, tortured, and killed during Korea’s authoritarian period. Their bodies made ghosts appear.

Workers also passed out pamphlets with pictures of Kim Dae Jung (fig. 4). His was the face of the Neo-Korea of democracy and neoliberalism. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for his “Sunshine Policy” of warming relations with the North. A native son of the South Cholla region, which was historically marginalized as a haven for rebellion, his was the face of historical reconciliation. His smiling face was superimposed upon the body of a combat police, his golden medal prominent over black fatigues [End Page 91] and armor. It may seem simply a humorous caricature. But, it also conjures the violence of Korea’s past into the present, the face of the past laminated as the same as the new.

Figure 4. Kim Dae Jung as combat police. Image cropped from union flier distributed at demonstrations.<br/><br/>Permission granted by Korean Metal Workers’ Union, GM-Korea
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Figure 4.

Kim Dae Jung as combat police. Image cropped from union flier distributed at demonstrations.

Permission granted by Korean Metal Workers’ Union, GM-Korea

In a short essay about the sovereign police, Agamben wrote, “The point is that the police … are not merely an administrative function of law enforcement; rather, the police are perhaps the place where the proximity and the almost constitutive exchange between violence and right that characterize the figure of the sovereign is shown more nakedly than anywhere else.” The caricature, as dialectical image, reveals baldly that proximity of state violence [End Page 92] and democratic rule, blurring the distinction between exception and norm, between the old and new. Furthermore, the caricature exposes the political character of neoliberalism. Despite pervasive framings of neoliberal policy making as a neutral technical process, rendered invisible relative to culture and politics, the image unveils the function of coercive sovereignty in the production and maintenance of “free” market economies. Biopolitics improves the capacities of populations, the sovereign continues to safeguard the economic security of the political community from threats within and without. “This embarassing contiguity between sovereignty and police,” as Agamben remarked,73 forces us to awareness of the continuing play of violence in the constitution of the neoliberal world order.


In this article, I examined the complex interplay between sovereignty and biopolitics in the formation of Neo-Korea. I argued that neoliberalism, as biopolitical technologies of maximizing national productivity, set the threshold of normative inclusion into the new Korea. Neoliberalism constituted not only calculative, self-optimizing rationalities; it was also a sign of the new, the emergence of modern ways of thinking and acting. Neoliberalism combined with self-conscious state performances to instantiate a postauthoritarian, democratic imaginary. The new police tactics—the lipstick line, cartoon mascots, and cessation of teargas—enacted a new drama that materialized the state as a potent but democratic agent, willing and able to secure the nation’s new border. Staged alongside the new police, protesting workers were not only anachronisms but also unproductive, emotional, and ungovernable subjects. In this theater, the highly publicized, violent police enforcement of mass layoffs at Daewoo Motor performed the willingness of the state to patrol and purify Neo-Korea of unlawful, disorderly elements. It is clear that struggles against the ravages of neoliberalism are also struggles for memory and historical consciousness. The Daewoo fight was over the power to either conjure or exorcise the ghosts of “Kwangju.” [End Page 93]

Jong Bum Kwon

Jong Bum Kwon is assistant professor of cultural anthropology in the Department of Behavioral and Social Sciences at Webster University, St. Louis, Missouri. He received his doctorate from New York University and was a University of California President’s Postdoctoral Fellow. He is currently finishing his monograph on affective and aesthetics politics during Korea’s neoliberal and democratic transformation.


I would like to thank Owen Lynch, Namhee Lee, Laurel Kendall, Jesook Song, and the anonymous reviewers who provided insightful and constructive comments.

1. Quoted in Nancy Abelmann, “Reorganizing and Recapturing Dissent in 1990s South Korea: The Case of Farmers, in Between Resistance and Revolution: Cultural Politics and Social Protest, ed. Richard G. Fox and Orin Starn (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1997), 254.

2. “Postauthoritarian” and “post−Cold War” are commonplace in scholarly and popular works on contemporary Korea. See, for example, Yoo Kim, “Mapping Utopia in the Post-Ideological Era: Lee Yun Taek’s The Dummy Bride,” Theatre Research International 32, no. 3 (2007): 296–311; Namhee Lee, The Making of Minjung: Democracy and the Politics of Representation in South Korea (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007). Minjung, commonly defined as the “people,” encompasses those disenfranchised and oppressed by colonialism, successive dictatorial regimes, and uneven capitalist development.

3. Kungmin is defined as “member of the nation.’’ According to Cho, it is a central component of official nationalist discourse that proclaims the isomorphism of the ethno-citizen, nation, and state. Simin, on the other hand, signifies rights-bearing citizens of modern liberal democracies; while it, too, is undergirded by the state, it emphasizes individual liberties and privileges rather than the homogeneity of subjects in both minjung and kungmin discourse; see Han Hae-joang Cho, “‘You Are Entrapped in an Imaginary Well’: The Formation of Subjectivity within Compressed Development—A Feminist Critique of Modernity and Korean Culture,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 1, no. 1 (2000): 49–69

4. Fieldwork (2000–2002) was conducted with laid-off autoworkers from the Pup’yŏng factory, the oldest assembly plant and union headquarters of the Daewoo Motor Company. The mass layoff of 1,750 male production workers from one of the most prominent chaebŏl (conglomerates) at the time was unprecedented, receiving considerable domestic and international attention. The dismissals, triggering a violent two-year stand-off between the state and company union, constituted a litmus test of the state’s will to enforce neoliberal reform, in particular a flexible labor regime.

5. Many of the high-ranking union officials did manage to escape under the cover of smoke and confusion. They found refuge at Sanggoktong Catholic Church, located a few blocks west, but were under constant police surveillance. They were wanted by the police for fomenting an illegal occupation.

6. For a succinct analysis of the illiberal element of liberalism, see Mitchell Dean, Governmentality: Power and Rule in Modern Society (London: Sage Publications, 1999). On the paradox of democracy, see Chantal Mouffe, The Democratic Paradox (New York: Verso, 2000) and Jacques Rancière, Hatred of Democracy (New York: Verso, 2007).

7. Taehyun Nam, “The Broken Promises of Democracy: Protest-Repression Dynamics in Korea, 1990–1991,” Mobilization: An International Journal 2, no. 4 (2006): 438. [End Page 94]

8. On the social imaginary, see Charles Taylor, Modern Social Imaginaries (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2004). My emphasis on the imaginary is informed by recent theoretical concerns about the fetishism of the state and democracy. The state is not a monolithic, coherent entity; nor is it fixed in the formal institutions of government. Rather, the state is a performative effect that becomes “real,” visible, and palpable through a range of discursive fields and everyday interactions with public officials. On the theoretical elaboration of the “state effect,” see Timothy Mitchell, “Society, Economy, and the State Effect,” in State/Culture: State Formation after the Cultural Turn, ed. George Steinmetz (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1999). Attendant to this vein of analysis is the examination of democracies as cultural construct rather than an intrinsic property of a particular kind of regime. On cultures of democracy, refer to Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, “On Cultures of Democracy,” Public Culture 19, no. 1 (2007).

9. Michel Foucault, Foucault Live: Collected Interviews, 1961–1984, ed. Sylvere Lotringer, 2nd ed. (New York: Semiotext(e), 1996), 123.

10. Avery F. Gordon, Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1997), 8.

11. Ibid., 19.

12. Ibid., 16. See also Grace M. Cho, Haunting the Korean Diaspora: Shame, Secrecy, and the Forgotten War (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2008), 31–33.

13. Of the numerous Korean-language sources, see Rim-hwa Han, “Yonggang maŭl saramtŭl ŭi han kwa bunno” (“Resentment and Rage of the Yongkang Village People”), Society and Thought (January 1989). Hyon-yon Cho, Hyŏndae Han’guk chŏngch’ ŭi angmong-gukka p’ongnyŏk (Nightmare of Modern Korean Politics: State Violence) (Seoul: Book World, 2000); and Byeong-chun Lee and Kwang-il Lee, eds., 20 Segi Han’guk ŭi yaman (Barbarism of Korea’s Twentieth Century) (Seoul: II Bit, 2001).

14. While the concept of compressed modernity is a hypothesis of the costs, psychic and social, of rapid modernization and societal change, I interpret it as a diacritical marker of the widespread concern over the attenuation of historical consciousness emergent in mid-1990s Korea. See Kyung-Sup Chang, “Compressed Modernity and Its Discontents: South Korean Society in Transition,” Economy and Society 28, no. 1 (1999): 30–55; Cho-Han, “‘You Are Entrapped.”

15. Pusik Mun, for example, attacked the mass seduction by an authoritarian nationalism steeped in a “worship” of speed and impatience for the material comforts promised by progress; see “Irŏbŏrin Kyŏkŭl Ch’ajasŏ” (“Looking for Lost Memory”), Tangdae Pip’yŏng (Contemporary Criticism), no. 9 (1999): 224–43.

16. See Hye Seung Chung and David Scott Diffrient, “Forgetting to Remember, Remembering to Forget: The Politics of Memory and Modernity in the Fractured Films of Lee Chang-dong and Hong Sang-soo,” in Seoul Searching: Culture and Identity in Contempormy Korean Cinema, ed. Frances Gateward (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007), 115–39; [End Page 95] Kyung Hyun Kim, “Post-Trauma and Historical Remembrance in Recent South Korean Cinema: Reading Park Kwang-su’s A Single Spark (1995) and Chang Sŏn-u’s A Petal (1996),” Cinema Journal 41, no. 4 (2002): 95–115.

17. In 1995, dictators Chun Du Hwan and Roh Tae Woo were publicly prosecuted and sentenced for their involvement in the military coup after the assassination of Park Chung Hee (December 1979). Both were pardoned by Kim Dae Jung as a gesture of historical reconciliation. Numerous acts of legislation were passed to decriminalize and compensate those injured by state violence, for example, the Special Act on Honor Restoration for the Victims of the Geochang Incident (1996) and the Act on Honor Restoration and Compensation for Those Involved in the Democratization Movement (1999). In addition, the state established a number of fact-finding commissions, including the Special Act on Fact Finding and Honor Restoration of the Victims of the Cheju Incident (1999) and the Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths (2001). Memorialization projects include the designation of Mangwŏl-dong Cemetery as the official national burial site of victims of Kwangju (1994) and the construction of The Tomb of One Hundred Ancestors for One Descendent (1994) to commemorate the Cheju April Third Massacre.

18. Although too numerous to list, notable are the People’s Committee for the Revelation of the Truth about May 18 and the Succession of the Spirit of the Kwangju Uprising, Korean Association of Bereaved Families for Democracy, and the 4.3 Institute. The term victims is encapsulated in quotations because a central arena of activism is the determination of victimhood, necessary for decriminalization and compensation. Recent examples of published testimonials include Sangyong Chung and Simin Rhyu, Memories of May: A Documentary History of the Kwangju Uprising in Korea, trans. Hye-Jin Park (Seoul: Korea Democracy Foundation, 2003) and The Park Jong-cheol Memorial Foundation, Park Jong-cheol: The Song of June (Seoul: Open Museum, 2009).

19. Michel de Certeau, Heterologies: Discourse on the Other (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1986), 3.

20. Allen Feldman, Formations of Violence: The Narrative of the Body and Political Terror in Northern Ireland (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 14.

21. Bernard S. Cohn and Nicholas B. Dirks, “Beyond the Fringe: The Nation State, Colonialism, and the Technologies of Power,” Journal of Historical Sociology 1, no. 2 (June 1988): 224–29.

22. Lisa Yoneyama, “Taming the Memoryscape: Hiroshima’s Urban Renewal,” in Remapping the Memoryscape: The Politics of Time Space, ed. Jonathan Boyarin (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994).

23. “Kwangju Uprising” refers to the military siege of Kwangju City, the capital of South Cholla Province, located on the southern tip of the peninsula in May 1980. Local residents rose up to protest Chun Du Hwan’s seizure of presidential power. The new military regime ordered elite paratroopers to suppress “a communist insurrection”; over two hundred people [End Page 96] were killed and thousands wounded. On contemporary politics about the rightful claims to the memory and significance of Kwangju, see Linda S. Lewis, Laying Claim to the Memory of May: A Look Back at the 1980 Kwangju Uprising (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002); Sallie Yea, “Rewriting Rebellion and Mapping Memory in South Korea: The (Re) Presentation of the 1980 Kwangju Uprising through Mangwol-Dong Cemetary,” Urban Studies 39, no. 9 (2002): 1551–72.

24. Jean Comaroff and John L. Comaroff, “Criminal Obsessions, after Foucault: Postcoloniality, Policing, and the Metaphysics of Disorder,” Critical Inquiry 30 (Summer 2004): 823.

25. On this shift from the theater of violence to discipline and biopolitics, see Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. Alan Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1995); Foucault, “Governmentality,” in The Foucault Effect: Studies in Governmentality, ed. Graham Burchell, Colin Gordon, and Peter Miller (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 87–104. By conventional reading, I intend Foucault’s position as a polemical one against understanding power as located in the apparatuses of the state in order to refocus analysis on the dispersed micro-politics of modern societies. In a 1978 lecture, Foucault stated, “Our societies have proved to be really demonic since they happen to combine those two games—the city-citizen game and the shepherd-flock game—in what we call modern states.” See Mitchell Dean, “‘Demonic Societies’: Liberalism, Biopolitics, and Sovereignty,” in States of Imagination: Ethnographic Explorations of the Postcolonial State, ed. Thomas Bjorn Hansen and Finn Stepputat (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001), 41.

26. Giorgio Agamben, Homo Sacer: Sovereign Power and Bare Life, trans. Daniel Heller-Roazen (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), 6.

27. Prem Kumar Rajaram and Carl Grundy-Warr, introduction to Borderscapes: Hidden Geographies and Politics at Territory’s Edge, ed. Prem Kumar Rajaram and Carl Grundy-Warr (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007), xix.

28. Aihwa Ong, Neoliberalism as Exception: Mutations in Citizenship and Sovereignty (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2006), 23. In the Korean context, Song’s analysis of “post-welfare” welfare programs implemented during the financial crisis to manage the disturbing increase in the numbers of the unemployed and homeless is instructive. Initiated under the Kim Dae Jung government, public-private partnerships propagated a discourse and ethos of social rehabilitation and moral rectification that divided potentially productive from unproductive workers, those deemed unable to learn the requisite dispositions for participation in the competitive marketplace of contemporary Korea. See Jesook Song, South Koreans in the Debt Crisis: The Creation of a Neoliberal Welfare Society (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009).

29. Barry K. Gills and Dongsook S. Gills, “Globalization and Strategic Choice in South Korea: Economic Reform and Labor,” in Korea’s Globalization, ed. Samuel S. Kim (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), 38.

30. Kwang-Yeong Shin, Cho Don-Mun, and Yi Song-kyun, Kyŏngje Wigi wa Han’gugin ŭi [End Page 97] Pokchiŭisik (The Economic Crisis and Welfare Consciousness of Koreans) (Seoul: Chimmundang, 2003).

31. Sunhyuk Kim, “State and Civil Society in South Korea’s Democratic Consolidation: Is the Battle Really Over?,’’ Asian Survey 37, no. 12 (1997): 1142.

32. John L. Comaroff and Jean Comaroff, “Law and Disorder in the Postcolony: An Introduction,” in Law and Disorder in the Postcolony, ed. John L. Comaroff and Jean Comaroff (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), 27. In an acute analogy, sociologist Chung-gi No remarked that the KCTU had become just another ordinary “citizen”; “Chŏnt’ujŏk chohapchuŭi eso sallilgŏt kwa chugilgŏsŭn muŏsin’ga” (“What Is to Be Saved or Killed about Militant Unionism”), Nodong Sahoe (Labor Society) 100 (June 2005). For an analysis on how neoliberal governance transformed progressive political subjectivities and agencies, see Ho’ch’ŏl Sonn, Sinjayujuŭi ŭi Han’guk chŏngch’i (Neoliberalism of Korean Politics) (Seoul: Purŭn Sup, 1999). On the impact of neoliberal restructuring on union organization and class consciousness, see Hyun Mee Kim, “Kyŏngje wigi wa namsŏng sungnyŏn nodongja ŭi Il kyŏnghŏm kwa chŏngch’esŏng ŭi pyunhwa” (“Skilled Male Workers’ Experience and Identity Following the Economic Crisis”), Han’guk munwha illyuhak 34, no. 1 (2001): 139–67; Wang-Bae Kim, Sanŏphwa ŭi Nodong kwa kyegŭp ŭi chaesaengsan (Reproduction of Labor and Class in Industrial Society) (Seoul: Hanul, 2001).

33. Although there are distinct genealogies of liberalism, neoliberalism, and democracy, the contemporary moment has seen a convergence of economic and political rationality. If we can situate, albeit in shorthand, the neoliberal subject as a rationally calculating individual who responds to objective signals of society, the market writ large, and is wholly responsible for his or her own well-being, the subject of democracy, too, is a socially competent individual whose moral and political citizenship is measured by one’s capacity for economic rationality. As Brown further argued, “Indeed, democracy could even be understood as a code word for availability to this rationality”; see Wendy Brown, “Neo-Liberalism and the End of Liberal Democracy,” Theory and Event 7, no. 1 (2003): para. 26.

34. Comaroff and Comaroff, “Criminal Obsessions,” 822–23.

35. Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Stepputat, introduction to Sovereign Bodies: Citizens, Migrants, and States in the Postcolonial World, ed. Thomas Blom Hansen and Finn Step-putat (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005), 3.

36. Comaroff and Comaroff, “Criminal Obsessions,” 823; Begoña Aretxaga, “A Fictional Reality: Paramilitary Death Squads and the Construction of State Terror in Spain,” in Death Squad: The Anthropology of State Terror, ed. Jeffrey A. Sluka (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2000), 46–69.

37. Comaroff and Comaroff, “Criminal Obsessions,” 822; Teresa P. R. Caldeira, “The Paradox of Police Violence in Democratic Brazil,” Ethnology 3, no. 3 (2002): 235–63.

38. Comaroff and Comaroff, “Criminal Obsessions,” 823. [End Page 98]

39. Mark Neocleous, The Fabrication of Social Order: A Critical Theory of Police Power (London: Pluto Press, 2000), x.

40. Ibid., 93.

41. Ian Loader, “Policing and the Social: Questions of Symbolic Power,” British Journal of Sociology 48, no. I (1997): 1–2.

42. Peter K. Manning, Police Work: The Social Organization of Policing, 2nd ed. (Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland Press, 1997).

43. See Loader, “Policing and the Social,” 1–18.

44. Ian Loader, “Policing, Recognition, and Belonging,” ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 605, no. 1 (2006): 210–11.

45. The modern police was established under Japanese colonial tutelage. The police apparatus was highly centralized, under the direct control of the governor-general, and served broad colonial administrative and military purposes, including the suppression, intimidation, and the trial of political dissidents. After “liberation,” US military leaders maintained the centralized colonial police apparatus and reinstated officers who had served under the Japanese, utilizing their experience to put down legitimate political dissent and conduct military-type operations. See Vincent J. Hoffman, “The Development of Modern Police Agencies in the Republic of Korea and Japan: A Paradox,” Police Studies: The International Review of Police Development 5, no. 3 (1982): 3–16.

46. The water torture and subsequent death of Park Jong-cheol (1987) and the sexual torture of Kwon lnsook (1986), both student activists at Seoul National University, are two of the more notorious examples.

47. The usual translation is “riot police,” but the literal translation of “combat police” better captures its paramilitary identity. The combat police are composed of conscripted male recruits, fulfilling military duty while serving under the command of the National Police Agency.

48. Changwon Pyo, “Policing: The Present and Future,” Crime and Justice International 7, no. 51 (2001): 7.

49. Changwon Pyo, “The Public Perception of the Police and Various Police Reform Initiatives in Korea: 1999–2001,” Asian Policing: Journal of the Asian Association of Police Studies 1, no. 1 (2003): 127–43.

50. Personal communication with Changwon Pyo, June 30, 2008.

51. Pyo, “Policing,” 129.

52. Ibid., 134–35.

53. Although women were hired onto the national police force since 1946, their numbers were miniscule until the mid-1990s, when the government advocated and instituted oversight for women’s employment in public and private sectors. The Korean National Policy Agency, for example, implemented a policy to increase the gender ratio to 10 percent, setting gender [End Page 99] quotas for cadet candidacy at the National Police University. It is not clear, however, that the rationale for such programs is principally about rectifying gender inequality and discrimination. The current interest in gender equality in the police force is complexly entwined with concerns about the institution’s “professionalism,’’ encoded as modern, rational, and commensurate with “advanced” nations. The 10 percent target, for instance, is an arbitrary figure, meaningful because of the average gender ratio of police departments in Western industrialized nations. Hyun Mee Kim demonstrates the powerful influence of international measures, as standards of modernity, on national gender policy in “Work, Nation, and Hypermasculinity: The ‘Woman’ Question in the Economic Miracle and Crisis in South Korea,” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 2, no. 1 (2001): 63. Furthermore, the impetus is undergirded by neoliberal-biopolitical logics of optimizing the labor force under conditions of the post-Fordist knowledge economy and the alarming decline of productive workers due to low birth rates and a rapidly graying population. See Yoon-sung Oh, “The Selection and Management of Policewomen in Korea,” Asian Policing 4, no. 1 (2006): 48–61.

54. “See Jongwoo Han and L. H. M. Ling, “Authoritarianism in the Hypermasculinized State: Hybridity, Patriarchy, and Capitalism in Korea,” International Studies Quarterly 42 (1998): 53–78.

55. Seungsook Moon, Militarized Modernity and Gendered Citizenship in South Korea (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005).

56. Don Kirk, “Who Needs Tear Gas? Seoul Puts Policewomen Out Front,” International Herald Tribune, February 23, 2000.

57. Oh, “Selection and Management,” 54–55.

58. Kirk, “Who Needs Tear Gas,” International Herald Tribune, February 23, 2000.

59. Pyo, “Public Perception,” 142.

60. It became evident that layoffs and antiunion tactics were intended to persuade General Motors to purchase the company. See Don Mun Cho, “Daewoo chadongch’a ch’ŏrigwajŏng kwa chŏngbu ŭi silp’ae” (“The Management of Daewoo Motor and the Failure of the Government”), Kyŏngje wa Sahoe (Economy and Society) 51, no. 9 (2001): 124–54.

61. Jacques Rancière, Disagreement: Politics and Philosophy, trans. Julie Rose (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999), 29.

62. Kristin Ross, May ’68 and Its Aflerlives (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002), 22–23.

63. Steven DeCaroli, “Boundary Stones: Giorgio Agamben and the Field of Sovereignty,” in Giorgio Agamben: Sovereignty and Life, ed. Steven DeCaroli and Matthew Calarco (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2007), 67.

64. Young-jin Oh, “Kim Expresses Regret Over Brutal Police Crackdown of Daewoo Labor,” Korea Times, April 18, 2001.

65. Young-jin Oh, “Kim Scolds Police for Brutal Crackdown on Daewoo Protesters,” Korea Times, April 26, 2001. [End Page 100]

66. “Kim Dae-jung Wants Your Business: Korean President Reassures Americans about Investing in Korea,” AsiaWeek, March 2, 2001.

67. Personal interview, August 16, 2001.

68. Personal interview, August 25, 2001.

69. It is not my intention to single out the Kwangju Uprising from the many cases of state violence in modern Korean history. There is certainly no natural hierarchy of events. As I hope to have made clear, the invocation was the workers’, a strategic response to the state’s memory politics (e.g., incorporation of Kwangju into the official narrative of the achievement of democracy).

70. Timothy Mitchell, Rule of Experts: Egypt, Techno-Politics, Modernity (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 297.

71. Wendy Brown, Politics out of History (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001), 140.

72. Walter Benjamin, “N: [Re The Theory of Knowledge, Theory of Progress]” (an excerpt from the Arcades Project), in Benjamin: Philosophy, History, Aesthetics, ed. Gary Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1989), 49.

73. Giorgio Agamben, Means without End: Notes on Politics, trans. Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare Casarino (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), 104–5. [End Page 101]

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