Spanning all of my research projects is a foundational concern with the sociality of oppressive institutions and the methods the oppressed use to carve out possibilities. At the center of my research is this question: how do the marginalized endure? My continued effort to witness and complicate institutions of power and dispossession is but part of my goal. My commitment to social justice work demands I take additional steps to speak of how movement within power and dispossession happens daily. While my work focuses specifically on South Korea, the institutions, projects, and concepts I interrogate are global in scale and scope: national security, diplomacy, and life.
The Queer Threat. Based on ethnographic dissertation research, this project seeks to challenge the political science-dominated field of security studies by analyzing national security through the experiences of queer and trans peoples and bodies in South Korea. I examine the treatment of queer and trans peoples and bodies as national security “threats” by the state and conservative Christian organizations as they bring queer and trans lives into relation with human and nonhuman “threat figures,” including North Korea, Muslims, and viruses. I examine the sociality of national security paradigms as institutions of oppression and the way queer and trans activists move through them. This is the first anthropological study to explicitly analyze national security through queer studies, and one of the few ethnographies of national security “on the ground.”
Queer Diplomacy. A recurrent theme emerged during my fieldwork into national security: the figure of diplomacy. This figure stands in uneasy relation to national security paradigms, both in theory and in practice. I zero in on what I call queer diplomacy, the diplomatic interactions that foster and reorient transnational connections between local and diasporic queer communities and organizations. How can we read the interplay of diplomacy and national security as queer practice, and how does that challenge common, “expert,” and academic assumptions about both? In many ways, this will be a project about comparative endurances and possibilities and how different local modes of movement form networks of endurance and possibility.
The Concept of Life. Part collaborative writing, part flight-of-fancy, this project began simultaneously in my own research and in conversations with scholar and activist Horim Yi. We wrote an article together for a special issue of TSQ on Trans-in Asia about trans bodies in the South Korean military. Our next set of collaborative writings will focus on a severely under researched and escalating problem in South Korea: queer suicide. Horim’s approach seeks to find both quantitative and qualitative measures and factors that are then actionable, while I take a step back and ask, perhaps too ambitiously: what is life in Korea when the life lost or taken is swept under the rug, thrown into a closet, or forgotten? How can we grapple with the deeply emotional and difficult topic of suicide by considering the potential of life and what counts as life?