International Conf.

[International Conf.]Desperate Youths in Disparate Cities: Affects, Practices, Spaces of Urban Youth Activism in Asia


|Date: 2017.6.10-11

|Place: New Millennium Hall 7417, Sungkonghoe University

|Organized By: Institute for East Asian Studies, Graduate School of Inter-Asia Cultural Studies

|Sponsored By: National Research Foundation of Korea


Desperate Youths in Disparate Cities: Affects, Practices, Spaces of Urban Youth Activism in Asia

It is not an exaggeration to say that the discipline of Cultural Studies is a product of affluent society. From the very beginning, its main concerns have been consumption, identity and pleasure replacing production, ideology and class as key categories of modernity. Mainly because of this reason, Cultural Studies had not taken off in most of the non-Western world until the tail end of the 20th century. The overarching concerns in this world were meta-narratives such as economic growth, democracy, and cultural modernization. Asia has been a story of astounding success in this regard. From the rise of Japan in the 1960s to that of China and Southeast Asia in the 1990s-2000s by way of the East Asian “Four Dragons”(Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and South Korea) in the 1970-80s, Asia has been considered an exemplary case of capitalist development. As they say, the 20th was the “miraculous” century for the region.

Cultural Studies began to emerge in Asia in the late 20th century symbolizing their newly achieved wealth and power. For a time, talking about capital, labour and class felt outdated and irrelevant in what was believed a postmodern era. However, it did not take long for their “miracles” to crumble and pride and optimism to be dissipated. What seemed infinite growth hit the ceiling and slowed down, unemployment went rampant and poverty emerged as a key issue again. Among the most affected from this economic downturn is the youth who, unlike the previous generation, barely enjoyed the benefits of growth but thrown into a deeply polarised and merciless world. In this bleak condition, they struggle to come to terms with the distinct and widespread prospect of the jobless, powerless and hopeless future as well as the present.

In the second decade of new millennium, young people in Asia have been at the forefront of some era defining political protests such as Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, and Candlelight Rallies in Korea. It is not easy to understand this sudden politicisation of youth in Asian countries since, unlike youth movements of the past century, current protests are neither motivated by ideas of progress nor clearly defined goals. In fact, protagonists of these political actions often appear skeptical to the prospect of their action’s changing the system. The age of hopelessness breeds hopeless social movement. This apparent lack of the pursuit of goal-attainment often confuses and frustrates analysts and commentators regarding the point and efficacy of the action.

What then is a point of the current youth politics in Asia? What is the motivation behind their collective action? What meaning do they give it? What are the strategies the employ and the tactics they deploy in their struggle? It is interesting to see that, rather than falling into nihilism and despair in the face of the grim new world, young people appear to work hard to build some positive foundations for life and networks for cooperation. The key term for their action is “survival.” They appear not very keen on attempting a macro societal change, instead, their efforts are concentrated on finding and creating ways to remain alive on a local communal scale.

This symposium pays special attention to new forms of urban youth activism and their practices of survival in the “post-development” Asia. There are three key areas of attention: 1) spatial practices: creating (and destroying) places in urban spaces on which youth activism takes place, 2) the role of art and culture: the use of art as an affective resource for constructing autonomous, independent, and sometimes ‘anarchy’ subject of activism, 3) networks or communities: creating trans-local connections for exchange and cooperation.

As the title suggests, the key question here is what the common grounds are and how it is being created between young people in desperate conditions in disparate Asian cities?

20세기 후반 동아시아 혹은 글로벌 동부(the global East)는 이른바 ‘기적’의 권역(region)이었다. 이 기적을 통한 아시아의 굴기는 ‘국가 주도’로 수행되면서, 이 권역의 상이한 장소들에서 상이한 시간에서 집약적으로 일어났다. 즉, 1950-60년대 일본에서 출발하여 1970-80년대 ‘네 마리 용’을 거쳐 1990년-2000년대 중국과 동남아시아에 도달한 이 기적은 이제 하나의 완전한 순환을 완료했다.

그런데, 이 기적은 21세기 이후 신기루가 되고 있다. 기적 이후의 세계는 장밋빛 유토피아라기보다는 잿빛 디스토피아에 가깝다. ‘미래 세대에게 풍요를 물려주겠다’는 목표로 이루어진 경제성장이 바로 그 미래 세대 구성원 대다수에게 재앙으로 지각된다는 점은 거대한 아이러니다. 저성장, 저고용, 저출산 등이 초래하는 사회문화적 문제들이 가장 강도높게 인지, 지각, 경험되는 행위자는 ‘청년’이라고 호명되고 있다.

이런 상황에서 아시아의 청년들은 어떤 감정상태를 형성하고, 어떤 실천을 수행하고, 어떤 미래를 그리고 있는가? 청년들의 강렬한 도전들로, 해바라기, 우산, 촛불 등의 상징들을 통해 거리를 점령하는 실천들이 있었다는 사실은 널리 알려져 있다. 흥미로운 것은 그 도전의 주역들이 “세상을 바꿀 수 없다”는 것을 너무나 잘 알고 있고, 그 점에서 이전 시대/세대와 욕망, 지향, 정동이 확연히 다르다.

그래서 이 심포지움은 대규모의 저항운동 이후 지속되는 ‘생존’의 실천들에 주목한다. 아시아 청년들 가운데 가장 민감한 세력은 경제기적의 상징인 대도시에서 새로운 형태의 도시 행동주의(urban activism)를 주조하고 있다. 여기서 다음 세 가지를 특히 주목한다: 1) 이들의 실천은 도시공간의 틈새에서 부단히 장소를 만드는 (그리고 없애는) 작업을 토대로 한다: 2) 예술, 자치, 미학, 아나키 등이 이들의 정동적 투자와 실천적 동기를 이룬다: 3) 이 장소와 실천은 국민적 공간(national space)을 넘어 아시아를 가로질러 접속·소통·네트워킹하면서 새로운 공간을 만들어 내고 있다.

이상의 질문들은 ‘가망 없는’ 아시아 청년들이 도시공간에서 장소를 만들고 아시아를 가로지르는 공간화 실천은 무엇인가로 요약된다. 그 실천을 수행하는 과정에서 아시아 청년들이 형성하는 복잡하고 양가적인 감정은 무엇인가. 즉, 상이한(disparate) 아시아의 청년들이 절박하게(desperate) 공유하는 것은 무엇인가.

|일 시: 2017.6.10-11

|장 소: 성공회대학교 새천년관 7417

|주 최: 동아시아연구소, 국제문화연구학과 대학원

|후 원: 한국연구재단