02/02/22: GOSSIP Seminar – Bridget Martin “Urbanizing Empire: US Military Territoriality in South Korea” (Harvard)

Thursday 28 October 2021

Referring to the US military as a “pointillist empire” or as an “empire of bases,” critics of US militarism frequently use the number of US bases as a proxy indicator of the extent and character of US military empire, assuming the presence of more bases indicates more US imperialism. Yet the US Department of Defense has long sought to consolidate forces onto a smaller number of military installations and to transition into a more flexible, interoperable force, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. As a part of this shifting topologics of force, the US military in South Korea has closed dozens of bases in the last decade and a half and consolidated most forces onto one major installation. This talk uses a critical conception of territory to argue that, as the total number of bases has been reduced, the violence of US military territoriality is now most palpable in the urban realm. Since the Korean War, the US military has relied on the violent capacities of the South Korean state to requisition land and to ensure the conditions of its ability to project force. Today, in militarized areas, the state works on behalf of the as it fosters the production of urban environments that normalize and beautify US militarism through the displacement of poor people. In demilitarized areas around the country, instead of returning released US military lands back to original owners or inhabitants, the state encloses released lands and treats them as commodities. All value captured by the state through the sale of these released US military lands is channeled directly back into US military construction works, scrambling distinctions between militarized space and demilitarized space. A critical conception of territory, rather than a focus on the base as a form that needs to be minimized or eradicated, illuminates the systems of power that make ongoing militarized dispossessions possible even with the return of dozens of US bases.

Bridget Martin is the SBS Korean Studies Postdoctoral Fellow in the Social Sciences at the Korea Institute at Harvard University, where she is also a Lecturer on Anthropology and on East Asian Languages and Civilizations. She holds a PhD in Geography from the University of California, Berkeley, and an MA in Politics from The New School for Social Research. Her research examines US military territoriality in South Korea, from occupation and wartime militarized dispossessions to military urbanisms of the contemporary moment.

Join us at 2pm on Teams for this GOSSIP seminar.