Date of Award

2021

Document Type

Thesis

Abstract

For centuries, the peoples of the Korean Peninsula and the island of Japan have had a turbulent history; one of conflict and occupation, cultural and economic trade, and much more. However, many would agree that the most definable moment for current South Korean and Japanese relations is the Japanese Annexation and Occupation of Joseon Korea from 1910-1945. Japanese rule consisted of atrocities and war crimes, economic exploitation, erasure of Korean culture, and military sexual slavery; the victims referred to as ‘comfort women’. Japanese forced sexual slavery not only affected relations between the island and peninsula, but it also deeply affected Korean culture through means of trauma, and most recently, the search for justice.

Cultural trauma is a relatively new concept in the social sciences and has been explored and expanded upon by scholar Jeffrey C. Alexander. Studies have been done to examine trauma in decedents of comfort women survivors and have just begun to examine the history of comfort women’s role in contributing to national identity. However, to what extent and in what ways cultural trauma continues to persist in contemporary South Korea is unknown. To fully understand the magnitude of such trauma is incredibly important in understanding how cultural trauma works, and the ways in which it will persist and affect the future whether culturally, politically, or economically. For this reason, I studied the cultural traumaand national identityof the Korean 'comfort women' of WWIInarrativeto find out to what extent such historyresonates with young Korean adults and is affecting their social and political perspectives towards Japan and its government. This study has shown that among all participants, the narrative of the comfort women plays a strong role in their sense of national identity. However, the presence of cultural trauma was limited to female participants, demonstrating that cultural traumacan be gendered and should be investigated further.

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