Asian Studies welcomes new faculty member, Dr. Youjeong Oh
Posted: June 3, 2014
In January, Asian Studies welcomed a new faculty member, Dr. Youjeong Oh. Dr. Oh's work focuses on urban processes in Korea and East Asia, Korean popular culture, and gender and space.
Dr. Oh was interviewed by Jennifer Tipton, graduate coordinator.
How did you get interested in Asian Studies?
I am originally from South Korea. The research interests have been naturally grown from my personal education and experiences there. Because East Asian countries including South Korea have experienced compressed modernization with a very rapid speed, East Asia can be a unique and meaningful research subject.
Where did you receive your PhD and when? What was the subject of your dissertation?
I received my PhD from University of California, Berkeley in Geography. My dissertation, Spectacular Cities, Speculative Storytelling: Korean TV Dramas and the Selling of Place, examines the ways in which the production of Korean TV dramas are associated with the promotion of Korean cities. Since the early 2000s, the Korean Wave, or Hallyu referring the popularity of Korean popular culture, has swept East Asia and continues its visibility in the United States, Latin America, the Middle East, and parts of Europe. My dissertation analyzes how the Korean Wave has turned the Korean drama industry into a speculative field in which numerous producers jump and gamble for the highly elusive mega-hit on the one hand, and continuously seeks sponsors for production on the other. Interestingly, Korean cities have become one of major sponsors for Korean drama producers, leading to the synchronized production of dramas and urban places. I analyzed the phenomenon with city-sponsorship in which producers benefit from the drama-sets and funding that cities provide, while cities capitalize the affective representation of place in TV dramas that create an emotional connection between audience and place. Extending the cultural phenomenon of the Korean Wave into the spatial and urban one, my dissertation argues that the cultural industry of Korean television dramas constitutes urban processes of contemporary South Korea.
Tell me about the courses you are teaching this semester. If students only remember one thing from your course, what do you hope that one thing would be?
I taught an undergraduate course, Political Economy of Development in Postwar Korea, and a graduate seminar, Gender in East Asia. In the Fall semester, I will teach Introduction to Korean History and Culture and Urban Experiences in East Asia. I am glad to see students become to have critical perspectives toward issues in Korea and East Asia through my courses.
What are your current research interests?
My research interests revolve around space, culture, and gender, and their dynamics in East Asia. I am working on a book project that will extend my dissertation. My book project elucidates how the production and consumption of popular culture (Korean television dramas) constitutes the transformation of urban landscapes and identity in East Asian cities. My future research topic includes the stories about my hometown – Jeju province in South Korea, about its long histories of deterrorialization, its current status of special self-governing province, and the will to develop through the self-imposing globalization.
How do you like Austin?
I’ve heard that Austin is a Berkeley of Texas. So far, it hasn’t really looked like Berkeley in terms of weather (we’re still getting adjusted to the extreme (both winter and summer) weather of Austin); but my family really likes the liberal and friendly atmosphere and smiling faces here. And the diversity of food! We’ve enjoyed Lake Travis, Mueller Park (and Thinkery), Zilker Park, Salt Lick, and Central Market. We will more explore the city, and I am pretty sure that we’ll love it.
What is a book that you have read recently that you would recommend (academic and/or non-academic)?
Bicycle Citizens: The Political World of the Japanese Housewife by Robin LeBlanc. The book addresses the ways in which Japanese housewives participate in the political and apolitical activities in a Tokyo suburb. LeBlanc intriguingly shows how the marginalized nature of social position and social identity of housewife paradoxically leads to more active involvements in the public sphere within a boundary of community. This book has inspired my recent research keyword: housewife. Recently, immigrant Korean American women known as “housewives” launched a fundraising campaign to sponsor a full-page ad in the New York Times denouncing the Park Geun-hye administration’s handling of the Sewol ferry disaster. Once mobilized as domestic reproducers over the course of development, Korean and Japanese housewives, seemingly very far from the political world, are now slowly but strongly emerging as an influential political group.
What was the last movie that you saw that you really loved?
It has been ages since I watched a movie. Instead, I’ve continuously paid attention to Korean television dramas that are also my research topic. I particularly enjoyed Reply 1997 (2012) and Reply 1994 (2013), two different drama series composed and directed by the same writer and director. The two retro dramas bring audience back to 1997 and 1994, featuring lifestyles, trends, and music in the 90s. Those drama series also present nostalgia-provoking details about my generation’s taste (beepers, cassette tapes, and fan cultures of sports stars and pop stars), making viewers feel romantic sentiment as if they go back to their college days. On the other hand, being aired on a cable cannel (tvN, a network run by CJ E&M), those dramas are relatively free from broadcasting deliberations and constrictions, thus able to present more realistic storylines and dialogues. Those series have also garnered significant popularities from overseas fans. If one is interested in Korean popular culture, I strongly suggest watching those two well-made dramas.