Alex Jong-Seok Lee is a sociocultural anthropologist of South Korea. He received his Ph.D. in Anthropology (with a minor in Asian American Studies) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and his B.A. in Ethnic Studies from the University of California, San Diego. Situated at the intersection of Korean Studies, feminist theory, and comparative and transnational ethnic studies, his research examines how changing conceptions of mobility and migration, labor, and the “Global” inform current formations of class, gender and sexuality, and race in South Korea. In particular, he studies the role of fantasy, temporality, and affect in informing broader understandings of labor and social unrest precipitated by post-1997 Asian Financial Crisis neoliberal structuring.
At Rice, Alex is working on his first book, which examines how global Korean identity is constructed along axes of class, gender and sexuality, and race within the lived experiences of contemporary Korean (largely cisgender, feminine presenting, i.e., “female”) flight attendants. Methodologically, his research draws on 18 months of ethnographic and archival research, primarily in Seoul, South Korea and Dubai, the United Arab Emirates (but also less intensively in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and Chicago, USA) among aspiring, current, and former female and male Korean flight attendants. His scholarship explores how the affective and aspirational desires of this unique labor migrant group embody and interrogate normative ideas of contemporary Koreanness—chiefly, the latter’s emphasis on (neo)liberal values like individualism, self-development, and cosmopolitanism. By charting the lived experiences of this prestigious but precarious form of Korean labor, his research provides new insights on the nature and meaning of work, personhood, and belonging. This includes the constitutive yet undertheorized role of fantasy—imaginary, spatial, and affective—within studies of class, mobility, and national identity.
In the spring of 2019, Alex will teach an undergraduate course, “Introduction to Transnational Asian Studies.” During his postdoctoral fellowship, Alex also will work on three new projects. The first project is an ethnography of the Houston-based Korean American community regarding the Korean diaspora and reunification (under the guidance of principal investigator, Dr. Sonia Ryang). The second project inspects the theoretical and practical implications of considering flight attendants’ feminized care practices as a form of commodified “security” or the removal (se) of “care” (cura). His third project explores Korean imaginaries of racial, ethnic, and national difference through the anthropological lens of kinship.
Alex has published in The Asia Pacific Journal of Anthropology, as well as a chapter in Rowman & Littlefield’s Anthropology of Tourism: Heritage, Mobility, and Society series. In addition to working as a researcher, he has taught undergraduate courses on sociocultural anthropology, biological anthropology, and Asian American Studies. Currently, he serves as Media Strategist for City & Society. His other academic and popular media publications can be found on his website: www.alexjslee.com.
Cosmopolitanism and Tourism: Rethinking Theory and Practice
Robert Shepherd (editor)