Saturday, January 29, 2011

South Korea's Gwangju uprising in 1980 and people's protests in Egypt in 2011

Coming across with all the news reports about people's protests against dictatorship in Egypt reminds me of South Korea's own history of democratisation movements, which often ended in the bloodshed due to brutal suppression by the military, police or thugs.

One major uprising that still haunts people's memory in South Korea is the violent oppression of people's uprising in one of the southern provincial capital cities, Gwangju in Cholla South Province. In May 1980, ordinary people bravely stood up against the military government. In the course of this uprising, civilians were forced to arm themselves in order to defend them against military forces that repeatedly attempted to suppress them. For a brief period, the city was in an autonomous status, an urban commune that was governed by the people themselves with no real disorder and violence. Eventually, the city fell. More than 2,000 people were thought to have died or gone missing due to the military operation that ended on 27th May 1980. The operational code name for this military exercise that resulted in the massacre was 'splendid holiday'.

Owing to the severe military containment of the city at that time, much of the national population were not aware of what was really going on in that part of the country. Reports were repeating government accusations that communists were behind these protests, and no exact details of military action were delivered. For many years, talking about Gwangju uprising was a taboo. One of the causes that drew university students towards student movement was knowing the truth about Gwangju uprising. Some rare video footage could be found on these YouTube links:

Gwangju massacre (Part 1)

Gwangju massacre (Part 2)

Gwangju massacre (Part 3)

In 1987, another big round of people's uprising took place in Seoul, which led to the concession by the military government that agreed on a direct presidential election. Although this did not led to the change in power due to the division within the opposition leaders at that time, one of the key factors that led to this concession was the non-intervention by the military force at that time. Military actions in the form of coup d'etat no longer took place since 1980. I suppose there were too many risks involved for the military to intervene, now that they had witnessed escalating protests and discontents and that the whole world was carefully following the development of democratisation movements in places like Seoul. Perhaps, Seoul's status as the host city of the 1988 Summer Olympic Games was another reason for such world-wide attention, making it even more difficult for the dictatorship to make any wrong moves.

Civil uprising in June 1987

Now that I see the series of protests in Egypt, my only hope is that the military does not intervene and let the people decide the course of history.

Total incompetence of Lee administration in South Korea fails to contain the spread of foot and mouth disease

I still remember the pig that was being taken away from my grandmother's house when it was sold to a butcher. This was when I was a very small child probably before schooling age. It was a big pig, at least in the eyes of a small child. Several adults had to wrestle with the pig, pulling the rope that was securely tied around its neck and legs, in order to tow him towards the vehicle that was to carry him to the slaughterhouse. Somehow, the pig knew about its destiny, I think, as it was resisting the men with all his might, crying out as loud as it could. It was a shocking, horrible scene.

In South Korea, as of now, horrible acts of killing pig and cattle stock are being carried out on a daily basis. The Lee administration in South Korea is showing total incompetence in containing the 'foot-and-mouth' disease, which broke out in November 2010. The Lee administration failed to take any significant actions in its early days of outbreak. Now it's killing animals en masse. One of the most recent reports here: It is reported that more than 2 million pigs and cows have been killed since its outbreak, many of them being buried alive. Yes, alive!

One TV programme known for its progressive journalism covered this story, and some of the screen shots can be found on this link: The sub-titles are all in Korean, I am afraid, but the images tell the story. It talks about deep sympathy towards culled animals, how brutal the killing has been, how much those people involved in killing suffers mentally and physically, and the threat of infection from the killing site.

Now the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations has announced on 27 January 2011 that "coordinated, multinational response" is necessary in order to contain the disease spread. The organisation's Chief Veterinary Office, Juan Lubroth, has said "The current FMD dynamics in eastern Asia, as well as the magnitude of the outbreak in South Korea, are unlike anything that we've seen for at least a half century". More details of this announcement can be found on this link:

The size of culled pig and cattle stock is expected to rise to 3 million by the lunar calendar new year (3rd February this year). And yet, the government has 'asked' the media not to send out images of culled animal in fear of rising discontent. One of the top government officials has even tried to blame the disease spread on farmers, accusing them of not fully cooperating.

My sincere condolences to these brutally culled animals, farmers who lost their beloved livestock, and anyone else who's directly exposed to this killing and who may suffer long-term trauma from this cruel act they were forced to commit.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Gentrification in the Global South: Dilapidation, Obsolescence and Land Exploitation

First Call for Papers
RGS-IBG 2011 Conference: The Geographical Imagination
31st August – 2nd September 2011 (London)

Gentrification in the Global South: Dilapidation, Obsolescence and Land Exploitation

Dr Hyun Bang Shin (Department of Geography and Environment, London School of Economics)
Dr Ernesto López-Morales (Faculty of Architecture and Urbanism, University of Chile)

Urban Geography Research Group


The proposed session aims to examine how gentrification as an urban phenomenon is played out outside the domain of the European and North Atlantic regions. In particular, we invite contributions that address the production of gentrifiable properties and areas through the interaction between obsolescence (fall of exchange value) and dilapidation (decrease in the use value), reinforced by the re-appreciation of landed value and rent gap exploitation. Dilapidation may occur as a result of physical deterioration caused by either deliberate actions/inactions by property-owners or state institutions (e.g. redlining or blockbusting). Obsolescence, on the other hand, may result from changes in the preference for a particular building style or aesthetic tastes, but increasingly, it is the deliberate acts of market agents that affect the artificial decline of the exchange value. As these processes of devaluation take place, they produce waves of displacement and eventually eviction, prompting potential urban segregation. However, although the public policy usually sees the construction of ‘trendy’ commercial buildings as a neighbourhood ‘saviour’, this form of urban production overshadows existing buildings and often leads to the obsolescence of the latter, prompting a further chain reaction of redevelopment that aims at higher rates of financial gains.

In the Global North, obsolescence is said to concentrate on areas with the highest return on investment in a market that has been increasingly entwined with the global financial capital. In the Global South, the question seems to centre on the extent to which the state and market agents (at local, regional or national level) interact with each other to boost property-led redevelopment and create a series of market incentives to attract (globalised) financial capital. These activities often rampantly bypass mechanisms of social participation and political accountability.

In this regard, we aim to explore these issues in relation to the cities in the Global South, with reference to (but not limited to) cities in Asia and Latin America. We expect to establish a platform for a dialogue among researchers in order to shed light on how gentrification can be understood and experienced against the backdrop of its very political, economic and social roots. This, we expect, would contribute to the restoration of a debate that has been ‘evicted’ from the global academia . We welcome papers that address issues like (but are not confined to):
  • Usefulness and applicability of ‘gentrification’ as a conceptual framework for the study of cities in the Global South;
  • Usefulness and applicability of ‘neoliberalism’ in the way it is established out of the North Atlantic realities, for the study of gentrification in cities in the Global South;
  • The role of state institutions and market agents in relation to neighbourhood changes;
  • The role of global (real estate and/or financial) capital in urban development and real estate projects in the Global South;
  • Socio-political issues arising from these processes, insofar as the state involvement becomes crucial for redevelopment
  • Examples of urban strategies that produce dilapidation and obsolescence;
  • Displacement and eviction;
  • Methodological and conceptual challenges pertinent to urban contexts in the Global South
Papers that tease out the differences between the gentrification processes in the North and South are particularly welcome. Interested participants are invited to submit abstracts of no more than 250 words to the session organizers (Hyun Shin, and Ernesto López Morales, by 11th February 2011.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Urban Utopianism Workshop @ Hong Kong Baptist University

(The original deadline for abstract submission has passed, but please contact the organiser to see if there is a place available)

Call for Papers

Urban Utopianism workshop

The utopian perspective, according David Pinder, is one that involves “the expression of desire for a better way of being and living through the imagining of a different city and a different urban life”. David Harvey charts a course to construct the future, or what he calls a ‘dialectical or spatiotemporal utopianism’. This approach underscores a study of the historical geography of capitalism to provide clues as to how a dialectical utopian project can be grounded in both the present and the past. In particular, it requires us to unravel the internal contradictions and then consider how to develop the collective mechanisms and cultural forms necessary for the realisation of alternative urban visions based on these contradictions. For Henri Lefebvre, the world space has been colonised by commodity capitalism and state management and planning. Nevertheless, out of the isotopias in urban space, there are heterotopias developed out of contradictions. Heterotopic spaces can further be developed into utopia, as the May 1968 Movement in central Paris, a utopia, originated from the earlier heterotopia of Nanterre has illustrated. More specifically, for Lefebvre, our utopia is the differential space. This search can be achieved by his much-celebrated regressive-progressive method. For the non-West, the search for utopia must work harder to counteract the hegemony of current urbanisation in co-determination with the world. It is the objective of this international conference (1) to identify the spatial contradictions, (2) to argue conceptually different ways to imagine a different city, (3) to propose ways to build the collective mechanisms/autogestion/the reformed state, (4) to detail cases of experiment all over the world, and (5) in particular, compare and contrast experiments in the developed, developing and socialist worlds.
Call for Papers
This workshop is interested in papers that focus on one or more of the following sub-themes:
  1. Conceptual discussion of utopia by invoking theoreticians like Foucault, Lefebvre, Gramsci, Harvey, and others;
  2. Documentation of experiments around the world including examination and critique of the present, into the possibilities of imagining a future transformation;
  3. Compare and contrast more than one cases in different categories of city and in various types of society;
  4. Cases of experiment in East Asia, in general, and Hong Kong, in particular.

Please send abstracts to Wing-Shing Tang ( at the Department of Geography, Hong Kong Baptist University, before the 31st December, 2010.
It is intended to publish some of the papers in a monograph.