learning to commit

I am a commitment phobe. There are few things I dread more than having to set aside my schizophrenic set of academic interests to focus in on a specific area of research. I often jump from one topic to the next, but soon I’ll have to commit to something. The research proposal for our 15,000-word dissertation is due in about a month and a half, and we have already made our first stabs at the proposal.

Today, I had to write a 200-word abstract — or a better way of putting it might be a mini proposal since you generally write the abstract after your research is completed  —  and select a piece of complimentary visual material for my Cultural Studies Research Methods class. The abstract I wrote is more of a stream-of-consciousness journal entry, but nevertheless, better represents my ideas than a formal proposal.

Performing and Remembering the Other: On Place, Language, and Memory in South Korea

This project started off with an interest in looking how the unique, site-specific characteristics of Seoul and South Korea could be used to expand on recent cultural and urban theory, but as I worked through my memories, photographs, and writings, I felt dissatisfied. Almost none of the visual material* I had archived adequately captured the issues of hyper consumerism, globalization, xenophobia, and identity I wished to address. Even a keyword flickr and google image search couldn’t produce the results I wanted. It made me wish I had taken more photos when I was in Seoul. The lack of visual material coupled with my beginner proficiency in Korean and faraway distance from South Korea made me wonder if this was a feasible research topic. I started thinking about: How may one research a specific location without experiencing that place in person, having sufficient visual material, or being proficient in the native tongue? How can one acknowledge the barriers of language, representation, and distance while using them as a lens for understanding the experiences and memories of being a foreigner in South Korea? How does our perception of place change when our experience is filtered through these barriers?  This project will attempt to explore these questions by describing the experiences of being a foreigner in South Korea through an analysis of my own personal memories, blogs written by foreigners, primarily by English teachers, who are living or have lived in Korea, as well as photographs taken by myself, friends, and strangers. This project is an entry point into understanding the larger issues of memory, language, and place.

*The image above is one of the few pieces of visual material I found that resonated with my  ideas. I selected this image because the phrase “my god! I have to learn English” articulates the degree to which the English language has become embedded within education and the larger political economy of South Korea. I also like this image because it has phrases in both Chinese and Korean which to my untrained eyes have almost no apparent meaning beyond a few words. I see these writings more as image rather than as text. This largely image-based and fragmentary mode of reading Korean is how most foreigners experience South Korea. I am interested in understanding how this mode of language and interpretation affects their perception of place in South Korea.

So…that’s prety much where I am at now. This is an area of research I am hugely interested in, but I am also enticed by the idea of researching New Orleans, memory, and post-disaster cities. We’ll see, I still have a few more weeks before I have to officially commit. In the meantime, please send me your feedback.


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2 Responses to “learning to commit”

  1. Karen Says:

    Totally after the fact, but for future image research, I would recommend stock photojournalistic photography sites like :


    They use professional photographers, more in-depth tags/keywords for searching. Of course, the images might be covered by watermarks, and the image rights issues are pricey, but you may garner better results.

    • melissa andrada Says:

      Hi Karen, thank you for the recommendations, I am familiar with Getty Images, but not the others. I will definitely check them out in the future. One of motivations for using Flickr and Google Images is that they are collective public representations of memory, providing a much broader overview of how ordinary people view certain phenomena.

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