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Transnational Circulations of "Laban" Methods: Gender, Power Relations, and Negotiated Meanings in Early Twenty-First Century South Korea's Modernity


This dissertation investigates western-developed "Laban" methods that middle-class Korean female Laban specialists transported to South Korea and, there, tactically adapted to South Korean contexts during the 1990s and the early twenty-first century. It particularly focuses on how these Korean women's repurposings of "Laban" methods intersect with conditions of global capitalism and specific South Korean cultural politics, job markets, and dance instruction and employment networks. I claim that the specialists gained professional power by acquiring western-issued professional "Laban" credentials, which positioned them to create an alternative space for employment within already competitive and feminized dance markets. They founded the Korea Laban Movement Institute at home and have expanded their "Laban"-based creative movement education to the public with the support of a number of state and city grants. Their successful expansion of public dance/movement education has capitalized on opportunities afforded by the Korean state's cultural policy since the early 2000s, which has included the promotion of public arts and culture education, including dance, to foster "cultural democracy." At the same time, their approach to devising student-centered, experimental, and creative movement classes for laypeople that incorporate "Laban" methods has challenged longstanding models in South Korea for fashioning dance careers oriented to professional performance and dance education that focuses on technical training. I argue that these women's recasting of "Laban" methods results not from colonial force, but from the choices they have made as South Korea's modernity emerges within the frame of global economy. And, their embrace and adaptation of "Western" bodily knowledge and emphasis on cultivating individualism in and through Korean bodies have countered Confucian-based hierarchical authoritarianism and social collectivism.

Taking a global perspective, this dissertation draws on interviews, observation data, and archival materials to explore the connections among multiple factors: culture and political-economy, global capital and nation-states, and physical practices and gendered labor markets. It also emphasizes the transformation of practices when they are transported transnationally. My case study shows Korean transmigrators negotiated new meanings, forms, and values of this deterritorialized western practice for their own purposes, and they did not simply reproduce western values.

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