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The Gendered Politics of Socialist Consumption in North Korea, 1953-1965

Colloquium | February 1 | 4-5:30 p.m. | 180 Doe Library

Andre Schmid, University of Toronto

Laura Nelson, UC Berkeley

Center for Korean Studies (CKS)

How was ‘proper’ consumption conceived in the newly emergent socialist order of North Korea? Despite the desire of the Party-state to represent a population united around the Kim family and the (not unrelated) tendency of foreign observers to see North Korea as an extreme case of totalitarianism, there was in fact no straightforward answer to this question in the early postwar years. Rather, the realm of consumption captured many of the tensions and anxieties that underpinned the revolutionary politics of this postcolonial state and social order. The ambivalence at high levels of the Party-state on consumption offered a degree of maneuvering room in the local social worlds of the population. Through such issues as home décor, clothing fashion, and outdoor leisure, lower level writers and commentators sought to work out new notions of masculinity and femininity as well as class as one way of coming to terms with the (im)possibilities of mass utopia.


Andre Schmid is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of East Asian Studies, University of Toronto. Author of Korea Between Empires, 1895-1919 among other publications, he is currently preparing a book on the gendered socio-economic and cultural history of postwar North Korea.