The Landscape of Taiwan Studies and Korean Studies:
Opportunities and Challenges for Contemporary East Asian Studies Scholars
On June 25-26, 2018, the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) hosted an International Workshop on the Landscape of Taiwan Studies and Korean Studies with the main objective of nurturing an intellectual exchange between specialists who work in different areas of knowledge.
Over the two days, the twenty-one scholars invited to this event discussed the most salient issues concerning the status of research in Korean and Taiwan Studies, and shared their interests and experience in the field. A project brought up thanks to a collaboration between two colleagues at UCLan: Dr. Niki Alsford, Reader in Asia Pacific Studies, Director of the International Institute of Korean Studies (IKSU) and Dr. Sojin Lim, Senior Lecturer in Korean Studies and Deputy Director of IKSU. The event was also well received by the other colleagues at UCLan, such as Dr. Lara Momesso (Lecturer in Asia Pacific Studies), who also offered her contribution to the organisation of the event.
Conceived to be an interdisciplinary project aiming to bring together not only experts from the two different geographical areas, but also from various academic disciplines, including anthropology, political sciences, economics, migration studies, international relations, history, sociology, development studies and so on, this conference hoped to facilitate a close dialogue between scholars who rarely talk together at the same scene. Hence, after the welcoming remarks by Dr. Daniel Waller, Head of the School of Language and Global Studies at UCLan, the conference kicked off with a keynote speech by Professor Bruce Jacobs (Monash University) who encouraged the audience to reflect on the various opportunities and points of comparison that Korean Studies and Taiwan Studies could offer.
The Taiwan Studies circle saw a dynamic exchange between the “parents” of the field (as Dr Niki Alsford put it during the conference), such as Prof. Michael Hsiao (Academia Sinica), Prof. Thomas Gold (University of California, Berkeley), Prof. Melissa Brown (Harvard University), Dr. Dafydd Fell (SOAS, University of London) and Prof. Ann Heylen (National Taiwan Normal University), and a new generation of “children”, such as Dr. Isabelle Cheng (University of Portsmouth), Dr. Bi-yu Chang (SOAS, University of London), Dr. Taňa Dluhošová (Oriental Institute, Czech Academy of Sciences), Dr Niki Alsford (UCLan) and Dr Lara Momesso (UCLan). While the former fought to establish the field of Taiwan Studies internationally, the challenges awaiting the latter are different: increasing the visibility of Taiwan in academic debates beyond the niche of Taiwan Studies, offering critical, rich and thick analyses of Taiwan, coping with short-term funding and limited work opportunities available for this field.
A slightly different picture emerged from the discussion of the Korean counterpart. In Korean Studies, due to a relatively short history of this field of study, most scholars appear to be in their early and mid-career pathway, with the exception of Prof. Michael Seth (James Madison University) and Prof. Wonhyuk Lim (Korea Development Institute (KDI) School). Dr. Owen Miller (SOAS, University of London), Dr. Virginie Grzelczyk (Aston University), Dr. Jeong-Im Hyun (University of Turku), Dr. Nicolas Levi (Polish Academy of Sciences), Dr. Nataša Visočnik Gerzelj (University of Ljubljana), Dr. James Person (Johns Hopkins University) and Dr. Sojin Lim (UCLan), each from different disciplines, enlightened the audience on aspects of Korea that have been previously neglected due to a long-term dominance of the humanities in this field, including research on language, literature and history. Thanks to the efforts of these scholars, Korean Studies has turned into an interdisciplinary field of knowledge, and this has made possible to appreciate new features of Korea, its society, economics, politics, culture, international relations, and development. Another significant contribution in this conference was Ms Jung-Sim Kim's intervention, that enlarged the scope of the discussion by bringing in a different perspective. As a librarian at Monash University, Ms Kim shared her experience with academics and researchers on the various challenges and opportunities available for those who are interested in searching resources in Korean Studies.
On a comparative level, the main objective was met, not without any challenges though: if, on the one hand, the guests enjoyed engaging in lively discussions crossing, challenging and questioning geographical and disciplinary boundaries, on the other hand, they also had to come to terms with the consequences of each country's different positioning in the regional and global order. In other words, while a juxtaposition of Korea and Taiwan favoured a vibrant intellectual exchange, allowing a mutual learning between academics from each field, it also pushed participants to reflect upon an important question of ‘up to what extent and in which circumstances is a comparison between these two countries productive?’. Despite the different answers that were provided during the round table at the end of the conference, an important feature that emerged by looking at the two areas was that while the field of Korean Studies is working to offer a space to a new rising actor, North Korea, by overcoming existing heavy focus on South Korea, the field of Taiwan Studies has departed from such an approach and it is focused on positioning itself as an autonomous discipline and area of research, beyond the long-established China Studies.
In the end, all the participants agreed to contribute on the next step of this project - two special issues in journal publications for each field of studies, and one edited volume providing a series of comparisons between the two areas of studies. Furthermore, we all greeted the suggestion raised by a few participants, namely to have regular exchanges, through conferences and workshops, between scholars from each field in order to create opportunities for exchange of knowledge and experiences in both Taiwan Studies and Korean Studies. In this sense, the International Workshop on the Landscape of Taiwan Studies and Korean Studies at UCLan successfully met one of the set objectives: to start a new era of intellectual exchange between the two fields.
This conference would not have been possible without the financial support of IKSU at UCLan and the contribution by the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS) of the government of South Korea. At the same time, the Taiwan Representative Office in the UK sponsored the welcome dinner of the conference.
Dr Lara Momesso is Lecturer in Asia Pacific Studies at the School of Languages and Global Studies, University of Central Lancashire. She is also board member of the European Association of Taiwan Studies.
Dr Sojin Lim is Senior Lecturer in Korean Studies and course leader of MA North Korean Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. She also serves as Deputy Director of the International Institute of Korean Studies (IKSU) as well as Chair of the Northern England Policy Centre for the Asia Pacific (NEPCAP). She has been a council member of the British Association for Korean Studies (BAKS) since 2018.