Punitive Precarity and Lucrative Death: Legal Violence and Its Production of a New Underclass in the Neoliberal State

April 12, 2024 | 2:30PM - 4:30PM
Asian Institute, Centre for the Study of Korea

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This event will take place in-person in room 208N, North House, 1 Devonshire Place, University of Toronto
A variety of mutations of neoliberal, capitalist politics have been investigated across different parts of the globe, including many Asian countries. Particularly in South Korea, the market-state nexus has developed a distinctive form of legal violence for the past two decades to protect the capital, (re)establish sovereignty, and outlaw “the disobedient.” Marked by a punitive turn of neoliberal governance in 2007, the recent trend of lawsuits targeting labor unions and protestors reveals a new punitive technique of dispossession and death, which has been effectively enabled and deployed through the Korean juridical systems. Drawing on the analyses of 249 lawsuit cases and 3,138 pages of court judgments, this talk proposes a notion of punitive precarity to elucidate (a) exceptional legal mechanisms to punish the “social ills” employed by legal, government, and for-profit institutions; (b) a contemporary form of the subjugation of life to the power of death enforced by the imposition of liabilities and confiscation; and (c) legal violence as the performative and communicative technology that produces material and symbolic effects that spill over into the entire society. In doing so, this talk extends a poignant critique about the ways in which the state and state-sanctioned violence has proactively created a new underclass, legitimized by the law and legal systems.
Dr. Heewon Kim, a scholar-activist who works across borders, is an associate professor in the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University. She is a critical organizational scholar who focuses primarily on the areas of justice, participation and voice, power/knowledge, violence, as well as burnout and resilience.
(Chair) Michelle Cho is an Assistant Professor at the Department of East Asian Studies and Affiliate of the Centre for the Study of Korea, Asian Institute. Her research and teaching focus on questions of collectivity and popular aesthetics in Korean film, media, and popular culture. 
Sponsor: York Centre for Asian Research ,York University, and the Korean Office for Research and Education
Co-Sponsor: Centre for the Study of Korea, Asian Institute, University of Toronto
Asian Institute, Centre for the Study of Korea


Heewon Kim

Associate Professor, Hugh Downs School Of Human Communication; Affiliated Faculty, Center For Asian Research, Arizona State University

Michelle Cho

Assistant Professor, Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto; Affiliate, Centre for the Study of Korea, Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy