Date of Award

5-2017

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Geography

Major Professor

Derek H. Alderman

Committee Members

Micheline van Riemsdijk, Madhuri Sharma, Isabel Solange Munoz, Harry F. Dahms

Abstract

Since the end of WWII, Korea has experienced a miraculous economic development despite its devastated economic and political conditions originating from Japanese colonialism and the Korean War. However, while Korean society has concentrated on its socioeconomic advancement, few victims having traumatic memories of Japanese colonialism have been cared for by systematic and social treatment until recently. Especially, comfort women, who were sexually abused and exploited during WWII by the Japanese army, had not been able to testify their narratives in military brothels due to structural oppressions and distorted views against women in Korean society. In this respect, Wednesday Demonstration encouraged by feminist activists since the early 1990s can be seen as a protest against both the Japanese government and Korean society that had compelled comfort women to be marginalized for more than half a century. Paying attention to commemorative campaigns of comfort women, this study wanted to explore the strategies of marginalized females using symbolically-contested nature of space to memorialize the forgotten history of sexual slavery and restore their human dignity. Analyzing data collected through fieldworks and archived narrations of comfort women, I could draw significant implications regarding the reasons for marginalization of victims of sexual slavery and the diffusion of their traumatic memories. First of all, as comfort women had been located at intersectional margins during both Japanese colonialism and the postcolonial era in Korea, they could not obtain any opportunities and rights to representing their memories. To overcome this vulnerable status, comfort women and civic activists began to use sensory information produced by symbolic meanings of a comfort women statue constructed in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul. By doing so, marginalized experiences of comfort women could be handed over to the public, and eventually, conducted through scaled-politics in the US. By exploring commemorative campaigns of comfort women, this study could find out an example of strategies and practices that can be used by marginal subjects for human rights movements. Despite their vulnerable conditions and social status, it is notable that place-based politics provides them with a potential power to conduct scaled-politics and transnational memory work.

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