Territories of Stigma and Regeneration: South Korea’s New Military Urbanism

Authors: Bridget Martin*, University of California, Berkeley
Topics: Urban Geography, Sexuality, Military Geography
Keywords: Korea, militarism, urban, gender, sex work, empire, speculation, consumption
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/11/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 35
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

This paper examines how the South Korean “camp town”, or military sex work district, is being reimagined today as a site of US military urban cosmopolitanism. Focusing on the Anjeong-ri neighborhood in Pyeongtaek, located adjacent to the largest overseas US military base in the world, the paper first traces how Anjeong-ri was produced by the South Korean government and the US military as a blighted and hollowed-out neighborhood between the 1970s and 2000s. It then traces how the urban presence of the US military in South Korea came to be reimagined by urban planners and real estate developers as a force for cosmopolitan city-making in the early 2000s. As urban geographers such as Neil Smith have shown, projects of urban renewal and regeneration tend to follow long cycles of politically produced urban devaluation, disinvestment, neglect, and violence. The paper argues that the politically produced spatial stigma of Anjeong-ri, due to its history as a sex work district, has created conditions for a form of state-supported urban “regeneration” through real estate speculation and erasure of the neighborhood’s fraught past. At the same time, as is evident in urban plans and Korean-language real estate advertisements, Anjeong-ri is being reinvented as a space of cosmopolitanism, and the US soldier is being reimagined as a subject of moral militarized consumption in the local real estate and consumer goods markets.

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