John (Song Pae) Cho

BA, Carleton University. MA, Yonsei University, Seoul. PhD, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Special interests in transnational LGBT studies, Korean/East Asian studies, neoliberalism, and the Internet. Recipient of postdoctoral fellowships from the Korea Foundation and the Social Science Research Council for Transregional Research, both held at University of California-Berkeley and the Korea Institute at Harvard University. SLC, 2015–

Undergraduate Courses 2017-2018

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Studies

Queer New Media

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Spring

Until recently, “queer media” called to mind bar rags or community newsletters. With the proliferation of computer-mediated communication—including cell phones, fax machines, satellite television, and the Internet—queer communities around the world have seen the proliferation of multimedia conglomerates very much modeled on their mainstream counterparts (Gamson 2003). Not only that, as location-aware dating applications such as Tinder and Grindr provide novel opportunities for queers to socialize outside of gay spaces, Web 2.0 has resulted in the increased centrality of user-generated content, including DIY porn that is pro-sex, collaborative, and explicitly queer (McGlotten 2012). Finally, social networking and entertainment sites such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook offer possibilities, in previously unimaginable ways, for grassroots organizing and political struggle for social justice. Yet, even as the connectivity of the Internet has reinvigorated hopes for radical queer politics, democracy, and global community, it has also fed into fears about damage to face-to-face interactions and community. For instance, “No Fats, No Fems, No Asians” is now a ubiquitous phrase on gay hook-up apps where white, muscular, masculinity is most prized. At the same time, Big Data gathered from our Google searches and Facebook likes is threatening to become a regular part of diffuse and opaque campaigns of social engineering that involve guessing, among other things, one’s sexual orientation for marketing purposes. Clearly then, a more precise understanding of both the real and novel effects of queer new media is needed. Eschewing the largely speculative writing on sexuality and new media, this course will investigate how social media affect how queer users interact in online spaces as particular raced, classed, and gendered beings and how these interactions shape their understandings of themselves and the world. It will also explore how these communication technologies are situated in larger structures of political economy and how they have the potential to remediate mass mobilization and political action. Potential readings include Corinne Lysandra Mason’s “Tinder and humanitarian hook-ups: the erotics of social media racism” (2016), Catherine Connell’s “Fashionable Resistance: Queer ‘Fa(t)shion’ Blogging as Counterdiscourse” (2013), Dominique Pierre Batiste’s “‘0 Feet Away: The Queer Cartography of French Gay Men’s Geo-social Media Use” (2013), Shaka McGlotten’s Virtual Intimacies: Media, Affect, and Queer Sociality (2013), and Lindsey O’Connor’s “‘Weird’ Sex: Identity, Censorship, and China’s Women Sex Bloggers” (2014). For conference work, students will have a chance to expand upon their personal interests and learn the basics of ethnographic research by conducting mini-ethnography on a selected topic of their choice. Samples of past student work may be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

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Global Masculinities

Open , Seminar—Fall

What does it mean for straight white men in fraternities and the military to grab each other’s penises as part of a hazing ritual (Ward 2015)? Or for blond, “all-American” jocks to dress like “nerds” with glasses and perform a Revenge of the Nerds skit for a high school’s “homecoming king” contest (Pascoe 2007)? Or for the National Basketball Association to feature a promotional video of Yao Ming, the first Chinese player in the NBA, leading a Tai-chi practice on a basketball court wearing his Rockets jersey (Wang 2004)? What do these images and practices reveal about the diverse cultures of masculinity that exist within the United States and around the world? Often when scholars study gender, they focus on women. In contrast, within this course we will spotlight the lives of men who have long escaped critical examination as members of an unmarked category that has stood for humanity in general. In exploring the diversity of men’s lives across the globe, this course will highlight the social construction of masculinity; that is, rather than understanding being “male” or a “man” as biological facts, we will view them as sociocultural constructs that vary not only according to time but also setting. We will see how masculinity intersects with race, class, age, language, sexuality, religion, and nationality to create various models of hegemonic and subordinate masculinities that co-exist and compete with one another. We will explore how, even as masculinity operates to empower men as a group, they inhabit positions of power and wealth and simultaneously regulate the behavior of all men. Therefore, we will also discuss how drag queens, butch lesbians, and transgender people create their own complex genders (Taylor 2004) that have the power to disrupt the gender binary that, in turn, supports not only a white normative queer community and heteronormative family system but also hetero-masculinist states as part of a global capitalist system of homosocial bonding and rivalry. Potential readings include Dude, You’re a Fag: Masculinity and Sexuality in High School (2011) by C.J. Pascoe, Not Gay: Sex Between Straight White Men (2015) by Jane Ward, Sexual Discretion: Black Masculinity and the Politics of Passing (2014) by Jeffrey McCune, “The Track of My Tears: Trans* Affects, Resonance, and PitBulls and Parolees” (2015) by Harlan Weaver, Manly States: Masculinities, International Relations, and Gender Politics (2012) by Charlotte Hooper, and Chih-ming Wang’s “Capitalizing the big man: Yao Ming, Asian America, and the China Global” (2004). For conference work, students will have a chance to expand upon their personal interests and learn the fundamentals of ethnographic research by conducting mini-ethnography on a selected topic of their choice. Samples of past student work may be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

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Love, Sex, and Globalization

Open , Seminar—Year

In 2015, the issue of gay rights in Israel was thrust into international spotlight when 26 Israeli surrogate babies were evacuated from earthquake-devastated Kathmandu, but their Nepalese surrogate mothers were left behind. Among the Israeli parents were gay couples who had been forced to look abroad, as surrogacy is restricted to heterosexual couples in Israel. What this event also revealed are the strange bedfellows that love and sex find when they travel and take up new life in the age of globalization. In recent years, scholars have been increasingly concerned with the worldwide political-economic and technological restructuring that goes under the name of “globalization.” Too often, however, globalization has been figured as an abstract and all-powerful capitalist phenomenon imposed on the rest of the world by American political elites and US corporations. Missing have been accounts of how this restructuring is experienced by people in their daily lives, including their most intimate acts and practices. This course seeks to challenge the binaries of proximate/distant, economic/intimate, and global/local by which we understand globalization. Using an interdisciplinary lens drawn from anthropology, cultural studies, sociology, international relations, literature, and film and media studies, we will seek to account for the complex ways in which political-economic and technological transformations both shape and are shaped by love, sex, and intimacy. Among the topics of discussion will be gay marriage, mail-order brides, transnational adoption, international sex work, militarism, the Internet, and social media. Potential readings will include Symposium by Plato, A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977) by Roland Barthes, The Transformation of Intimacy (1992) by Anthony Giddens, Neon Wasteland: On Love, Motherhood, and Sex Work in A Rust Belt Town (2011) by Susan Dewey, Gay Bombay: Globalization, Love and (Be)longing in Contemporary India (2008) by Parmesh Shehani, Love in the Time of AIDS: Inequality, Gender, and Rights in South Africa (2010) by Mark Hunter, and On the Move for Love: Migrant Entertainers and the US Military in South Korea (2010) by Sealing Cheng. For conference work, students will have a chance to expand upon their personal interests and learn the basics of ethnographic research by conducting mini-ethnography on a selected topic of their choice. Samples of past student work may be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

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Previous Courses

Global Popular Culture

Open , Seminar—Spring

In 1996, riots erupted outside cinemas when Fire, a film about a lesbian relationship between the wives of two brothers, first screened in India. In 2012, the female members of the Russian punk band, Pussy Riot, landed in court when they donned their colorful balaclavas, or ski masks, and performed a “prayer protest” in a Moscow cathedral. In 2016, a 16-year-old Taiwanese member of an all-girl K-pop band was forced to tearfully apologize to Chinese authorities after she waved a Taiwanese flag on a Korean television program. Social critics have dismissed popular culture as “just entertainment” and dubbed its consumers as “cultural dupes, fashion victims, and couch potatoes.” Intellectuals have criticized it as a tool of mass deception. States have condemned it as propaganda that foments hatred and disrupts social order. What is it about popular culture that enflames such passions among so many people and has made it one of the most productive sites for thinking about themes such as globalization, nationalism, belonging, and modernity? Using a wide range of theoretical tools from cultural studies, communication, anthropology, sociology, feminist/queer studies, and film and media studies, this course will examine the meanings and consequences of popular culture in today’s globalized environment. We will ask: What is popular culture? How is it different from “high culture”? Who polices the boundaries between them? How do people consume, produce, and circulate popular culture? How have these processes changed with the Internet and media convergence? How does popular culture construct gender and sexuality, race, ethnicity and nationality, and global capitalism? What are the consequences of global cultural products for the production of new images, imaginations, and imagined worlds? In addressing these questions, we will explore a wide range of media platforms and genres, including television, film, advertising, music, books, comic books, gaming, and the Internet. Potential readings including Jim Daems’ The Makeup of RuPaul’s Drag Race: Essays on the Queen of Reality Shows (2014), Jack Halberstam’s Gaga Feminism: Sex, Gender, and the End of Normal (2013), Angela McRobbie’s Be Creative: Making a Living in the New Culture Industries (2015), and Sharon Heejin Lee’s “Lessons from ‘Around the World with Oprah’: Neoliberalism, race and the (geo)politics of beauty” (2008). Samples of past student work can be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

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Queer Ethnographies

Open , Seminar—Fall

What does it mean for “straight white men” to seek sex with other “straight white men” in online personal ads? Or for travestis in Brazil to inject 20 liters of silicon into their bodies to create breasts, wide hips, and large buttocks but vigorously reject identification as females? Or for gays and lesbians in China (tongzhi) to opt for “contract marriage” in order to evade the familial pressure to marry? What do these stories reveal about the ways in which gender and sexuality are being lived within a globalizing world? And how can ethnography contribute to the telling of these stories? This course will look at the growing body of LGBT/queer anthropology about non-normative genders and sexualities in Western and non-Western countries around the world. Beginning with classic monographs on same-sex sexuality—such as Esther Newton’s Mother Camp: Female Impersonators in America (1972) and Gilbert Herdt’s Guardians of the Flute (1981)—we will then move onto the early studies of non-normative sexualities in the United States and other parts of the world—such as Serena Nanda’s Neither Man Nor Woman: Hijras of India (1992) and Walter William’s The Spirit and Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture (1992). From there, we will widen our lens to focus on ethnographies that have begun to incorporate an intersectional understanding of race, ethnicity, and class, as well as nationalism and capitalism. They include Margot Weiss’s Techniques of Pleasure: BDSM and the Circuits of Sexuality (2011), David Murray’s Flaming Souls: Homosexuality, Homophobia, and Social Change in Barbados (2012), and Elisabeth Engebretsen’s Queer Women in Urban China (2013). Throughout the course, we will interrogate the vexed relationship between sexual and gender identities, embodied practices, and social roles. We will also examine ethnography’s contentious but generative relationship with LGBT studies and feminist, queer, poststructuralist, and postcolonial theories. Finally, a central question animating the readings will be how applicable Western queer theory is to the non-Western world. For conference work, students will have a chance to expand upon their personal interests and learn the basics of ethnographic research by conducting mini-ethnography on a selected topic of their choice. Samples of past student work can be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

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First-Year Studies: Transnational Sexualities

Open , FYS—Year

In recent years, postcolonial nations worldwide have been the site of vigorous new LGBT movements that both mimic and challenge Euro-American models of identity, sexuality, and citizenship. Observers of these LGBT movements have attributed the proliferation of these new gender/sex categories and erotic cultures to the intersection of multiple influences, including globalizing market capitalism, intensifying hybridization of local and Western cultures/discourses, increasing rates of human movement through tourism and migration, and expanding international cooperation on issues such as HIV/AIDS and human rights of gender/sex minorities. The Internet, cinema, and other technologies have been seen as especially critical in unmooring these categories from their static and sedentary locations in the “West.” Within this course, we will critically examine this phenomenon of “queer globalization” that has provoked debates over whether these Westernized projects herald an accelerated Americanization, the homogeneity of gay culture, and the rise of the “global gay.” How do Westernized sexual categories such as “gay” and “lesbian” travel and take up life in other parts of the world, becoming ongoing sites of contradiction and hybridization? In particular, we will interrogate the connections between shifting identities and successive phases of capitalist development. Critiquing the Janus-faced nature of queer liberalism that legitimates capitalist social relations while simultaneously restraining them, we will try to develop a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of transnational queer politics. For their conference work, students will have a chance to expand upon their personal interests and learn the basics of ethnographic research by conducting mini-ethnography on a selected topic of their choice. Samples of past student work can be found on the instructor’s faculty home page.

Faculty
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Queer New Media

Sophomore and above , Seminar—Fall

The future of democracy is inseparable from the capacity of media institutions to make spaces. Keeping this in mind, this course will examine the impact of (old and) new media on queer politics. Until recently, “gay media” called to mind bar rags or newsletters. With the proliferation of computer-mediated communication—including cell phones, fax machines, satellite television, and the Internet—queer communities around the world have seen the proliferation of “multimedia, multimillion-dollar, 24-hour-a-day, goods-and-services-and-information-providing conglomerate(s)” (Gamson 2003) very much modeled on their mainstream counterparts. Not only that, while location-aware, real-time, dating applications such as Grindr provide novel opportunities for socializing across spatial or community boundaries, Big Data gathered from our Google searches and Facebook likes is becoming part of diffuse and opaque campaigns of social engineering that involve guessing, among other things, one’s sexual orientation. Eschewing the largely theoretical and/or speculative writing on sexuality and new media, this course will investigate how the materiality of media and its circulatory powers intervene in social and political life, creating new subjects who trouble the model of sexual rights and citizenship. In particular, we will explore both the larger structures of political economy within which these communication technologies are situated and their cultural impact on mass mobilization and collective action. Potential readings include Illana Gershon’s The Breakup 2.0 (2012), which focuses on mediated breakups through texting or Facebook; Mary Gray’s Out in the Country (2009) about the pivotal role of websites in the redrawing of the contours of rural gay life; and William Schroeder’s On Cowboys and Aliens (2012) about the impact of the blockbuster cowboy film, Brokeback Mountain, in China.

Faculty
Related Disciplines

Transnational Sexualities

Open , Seminar—Year

In recent years, postcolonial nations worldwide have been the site of vigorous new LGBT movements that both mimic and challenge Euro-American models of identity, sexuality, and citizenship. Observers of these LGBT movements have attributed the proliferation of these new gender/sex categories and erotic cultures to the intersection of multiple influences, including globalizing market capitalism, intensifying hybridization of local and Western cultures/discourses, increasing rates of human movement through tourism and migration, and expanding international cooperation on issues such as HIV/AIDS and human rights of gender/sex minorities. The Internet, cinema, and other technologies have been seen as especially critical in unmooring these categories from their static and sedentary locations in the “West.” Within this course, we will critically examine this phenomenon of “queer globalization” that has provoked debates over whether these Westernized projects herald an accelerated Americanization, the homogeneity of gay culture, and the rise of the “global gay.” How do Westernized sexual categories such as “gay” and “lesbian” travel and take up life in other parts of the world, becoming ongoing sites of contradiction and hybridization? In particular, we will interrogate the connections between shifting identities and successive phases of capitalist development. Indeed, if the mass-consumer societies and welfare states of Fordist production helped to consolidate the spread of gay identity in Western countries like the United States from the 1940s to the 1970s, then the current system of post-Fordist globalization has fostered the rise of sexual identities in all parts of the world. Critiquing the Janus-faced nature of queer liberalism that legitimates capitalist social relations while simultaneously restraining them, we will try to develop a more inclusive and nuanced understanding of transnational queer politics. Possible readings include Jason Ritchie’s How Do You Say “Come Out of the Closet” in Arabic? (2010), which discusses the politics of visibility and queer activism in Israel-Palestine; Petirus Liu’s Queer Marxisms in Two Chinas (2015), which rethinks the relationship between Marxism and queer cultures in mainland China and Taiwan; and Afsaneh Najmabadi’s Professing Selves (2013), which explores the meaning of transsexuality in contemporary Iran.

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Additional Information

Selected Publications

The Wedding Banquet Revisited: "Contract Marriages" Between Korean Gays and Lesbians

Anthropological Quarterly

Volume 82, Number 2, Spring 2009, pp. 401-422

This paper examines how Korean gays and lesbians negotiate South Korea’s heteronormative system anchored in the heterosexual and patriarchal family through marriages of convenience (“contract marriages”). Korean gays and lesbians pursue contract marriages in order to fulfill their filial duties to marry, while maintaining their gay and lesbian lifestyles. Yet, in pursuing contract marriages as individuals but in the service of conforming to the family, they both reinscribe and transform the heteronormative values of marriage, family, and children. They also challenge the Westernized model of the “out and proud” gay or lesbian.

Global fatigue: Transnational Markets, Linguistic Capital, and Korean-American Male English Teachers in South Korea

Journal of Sociolinguistics

16/2, 2012: 218-237

Mass migration characterizes the current moment of globalization. Constituting a particular subset of this global migration are Korean-American male English teachers who use the linguistic capital of English, commodified as the language of international communication, to exit from the United States and to return to South Korea as linguistic migrants, where they reassert their patriarchal privilege as Korean men. In the highly gendered and racialized Korean English language market, however, they must prove their ‘native English speaker’ status. Remaining oriented towards the U.S. as their proper home, they nonetheless continually defer leaving South Korea as it means giving up the privileges of being a male English speaker and thus become stuck in a life of leisure and aimlessness. As the shadow of neoliberal globalization deepens and their linguistic capital becomes devalued with the return of more Koreans from abroad, their feelings of being stuck turn into global fatigue.

"Hide and Speak"

John Cho is featured in this documentary produced by students in the 2016 Ewha Harvard Summer School Program. About the documentary: Most people in the LGBTQ+ community in South Korea hide their sexual identity from their families and larger society. This film provides a snapshot of the struggles queer Koreans face in a world that does not accept their sexual identities and serves as a medium through which these individuals can speak and share their hardships. Produced by Ike Adeyemi-­Idowu, Shadaporn Leelajornkit, Ray Kim and Melia Henderson.

Understanding Gay Rights in South Korea

On CNN International, John Cho discusses gay rights in South Korea following a public same-sex wedding ceremony there.

“The Luxury of Love: The ‘Rise of Bats’ in Post-IMF South Korea”

From the Korea Colloquium at the Korea Institute, Harvard University