Young Hee Kwon

yhkwon [at]
Professor in English Literature
University of Seoul
Appointment Dates:
(Aug 10, 2016 – Feb 9, 2017)
Research Project:
Becoming a “White” Body: Beauty, Class, and Postcolonial Social Affect in Korea
This study intends to explore the deep-rooted and now widespread desire in Korea for body images that are imagined as “white” but usually unbeknownst to them. As the society has been economically and culturally globalized since the last decade of the 20th century, beauty standards of Korean people have been dramatically transformed in tandem with flouring beauty industry, particularly plastic surgery. Implicated in the Koreans’ desire for whiteness, this study will suggest, is the rigidifying social strata that makes younger generation of lower economic class lose hope for their future and sarcastically call the country “Hell Chosun” (the bygone Korean dynasty colonized Japan). Especially interesting in this regard is now rapidly surging culture of misogyny performed mostly by socioeconomically frustrated younger male Internet users. The fact that their original targets were westernized younger Korean women in their appearance and ways of life implies that the desire for white body also involves other value systems and cultural/affective practices. Also significant is the irony that the desire for white body becomes stronger and more extensive whereas the society, on the surface level at least, goes toward more cosmopolitan racial mix. As “black” South Asian or other racially marked immigrants become more visible in the country, it seems that the need has grown for distinction on the part of Korean people, thereby further racializing the immigrant population. Based on these assumptions, this study will delve into the complex psychosomatic dimensions of subjectivity and their social impact, in particular, of Korean people’s desire for the imagined “white” body and the consequent abjection-racialization of their own/ their neighboring Asian peoples’ body. In doing so, it will reference social affect theory as well as psychoanalytic and postcolonial analyses of the body and whiteness.
Young Hee Kwon teaches literatures in English at the University of Seoul in South Korea. She received her doctoral degree from the University of Iowa in 2006, specializing in the late 19th and early 20th century British fictions that have significant bearing on cultural contexts of colonialism. She has published a number of theses mostly on modern British and postcolonial literature, and has been working on a new Korean translation of Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook. In addition to the impact of colonialism on subject formation, her research interests include affect theory and the body, trauma and empathy, and psychoanalytic theory of race relations.