On the Korean War and Cold War Social Sciences

Dr. Robert Oppenheim
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Via a detailed consideration of one specific interdisciplinary research project, this paper aims to contribute to an understanding of the politics of the United States social sciences, particularly anthropology, during the early Cold War period. In December 1950, as the Korean War raged, a group of three social scientists was sent to southern Korea by the U.S. Air Force to study the social mechanisms and effects of the first North Korean occupation of the South and, by extension (it was hoped), the North Korean and ultimately Soviet systems themselves. Less than two months later, the group returned to the United States, but over the next year they produced a series of classified and unclassified reports, articles, and a popular book that all aimed to shed light on “Sovietization” understood as a singular, overarching, political project of social transformation. The obvious point that has been made in other considerations of this particular Korean War study is that it was an instance of the cooptation of social scientists by the intellectual framework of U.S. anticommunism and by dominant military interests. However, my paper aims to suggest ways in which, first, military interests themselves were fractured in the early Cold War, and second, the study was also articulated with other mediating sites of knowledge and ideological production, notably American anthropology in the occupation of Japan and the non-identical anticommunist nation-making projects of the South Korean state itself. Ultimately, I thus hope to offer a critique of the metropolitan bias that has ironically been prevalent in the contemporary scholarly retrospective understanding of Cold War knowledge dynamics.

Keywords: Cold War, Politics of Knowledge, Social Sciences, Anthropology, Korea, Korean War
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Robert Oppenheim

Assistant Professor, Department of Asian Studies
Austin, Texas, USA

Robert Oppenheim received a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago in 2003, and currently teaches courses on the anthropology and history of Korea and East Asia at the University of Texas at Austin. His forthcoming first book, Kyongju Things, based on research in 1997-98 and 2005, focuses on the politics of objects connecting practices of culture and development in a Korean historic city. At present, Oppenheim is also conducting research on the history of Koreanist anthropology as a window onto a century of United States involvement in East Asian affairs.

Ref: I07P0929