AAA 2013 Invited Session Spotlight

Reflections on “Precarious Time: Discussions on the Un/Doing of East Asia”

By Timothy Gitzen (University of Minnesota)


The aim of this panel was to follow the renewed attention to the precarious in anthropology by focusing on the dependencies that create relationships while simultaneously threaten to destroy them.  Our site was East Asia—from Jenny Chio’s discussion of rural tourism in China and Sandy Oh’s attention to upper class insecurities in South Korea, to Hoon Song’s insightful look into global theories versus ethnographic particularities via North Korea and Timothy Gitzen’s exploration into the lives of gay men in the South Korean military industrial complex. East Asia is both an apt locale to discuss the variance of precariousness and an interesting category of analysis.  Given its intertwined histories and colonial past, common regional security issues, and neoliberal turn following both the early 1990s Japanese bubble burst and the late 1990s Asian financial crisis, the “stuff” that makes East Asia simultaneously incites the potentiality to unmake it.

Where do we go from here?  Nancy Abelmann, our panel’s discussant, reminded us all that discussions of/at the margins help refine our attention of/at the center, and so in talking about the 1% and sexual minorities in South Korea, Oh and Gitzen were also commenting on the 99% and those not deemed minorities.  Song made a similar gesture in discussing the anthropological Other, in that when imagining the North Korean Other we are not only imagining ourselves but also imagining the North Korean Other imagining how we imagine them.  Chio best addressed these issues by illustrating the contexts to rural development and tourism in China and the repercussions, bringing the margins into conversation with the center.  Moving forward, more attention is needed on the un/doing of East Asia and how dependencies move across theoretical, methodological, and geographic scales.

Timothy Gitzen is a PhD student in the department of anthropology at the University of Minnesota and the organizer of the SEAA-sponsored panel “Precarious Time: Discussions on the Un/Doing of East Asia” at the 2013 AAA Meeting.

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