Ecological Exceptionalism at the Border: Landscapes of Hope and Impossibility in the Korean Demilitarized Zone
Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)
This paper examines entangled processes of naturalization and temporalization around the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Despite its name, the 60-year-old buffer area is the most heavily militarized border in the world--with more than one million soldiers facing off across the four-kilometer-wide area and an equal number of landmines within it. The endurance of the national division has made the militarized border a naturalized feature of the physical landscape and has also created an accidental ecological haven that reportedly contains the majority of the peninsula’s biodiversity, including dozens of rare and endangered species. This ecological “revitalization” inspires environmentalists, scientists, and politicians in South Korea and elsewhere, who frame the border as a site of pure nature and a utopian space for the promotion of peace and life, in spite of its long association with war, destruction, and political antagonism.
Based on ethnographic research with ecologists, scientists, and activists in the South Korean border area, this paper examines the post-Cold War politics of nature around the DMZ and what I call its “ecological exceptionalism.” I analyze the multiple temporalities at play in the appropriation of the DMZ’s ecological value by local and national governments in the name of sustainable development. I also examine the quotidian relations among residents, farmers, environmentalists, tourists, soldiers, and nonhumans that produce the DMZ’s “nature” within the actual militarized infrastructure of the border. These collaborative and contested productions of the DMZ’s ecology reveal the ways in which nonhuman species increasingly mediate both anthropocentric and posthuman landscapes of hope and impossibility.