Vibrant matter(s): fish and fishing histories in North Korea

Winstanley-Chesters, R (2020) 'Vibrant matter(s): fish and fishing histories in North Korea.' In: Muscolino, M and Liu, T-J, eds. Changes in the land, water and air: perspectives on environmental history in East Asia. Routledge, Abingdon. (Forthcoming)


From Pyongyang’s urban landscape to Mt Paektu’s sacred architectures, North Korea’s topographies have been harnessed in support of its politics. While the nation’s coastlines have been by their nature more liminal than its monolithic urban/political terrains, North Korean maritime infrastructures have historically served its politico-developmental narratives, forging new ‘socialist’ landscapes and geo-political connections. These landscapes have been almost entirely human in focus with historically little consideration given to a wider ‘web of life.’ This paper therefore considers the history of North Korea’s physical and cultural topography as an assemblage of actors and participants. With what Jane Bennett has termed ‘vibrant’ or ‘lively’ matter in mind it specifically focuses on the fishing histories of North Korea, particularly at Sindo island, once a focus of political commitment and reclaimed from the River Amnok/Yalu, downstream from Sinuiju/Dandong. A fishing cooperative (visited by Kim Il-sung in 1976), was formed on reclaimed land from coastal communities elsewhere on the peninsula, new landscapes of community, development, accumulation and extraction emerging from the estuary. However Sindo has since slipped off Pyongyang’s developmental radar becoming a marginal, half-remembered site, its landscape degrading through institutional neglect, the maritime ecosystem it seeks to exploit diminishing due to over fishing and climate change. The paper suggests a re-negotiation throughout the nation’s history of the landscape of politics, culture and terrain by its contemporary human and non-human residents. North Korea maritime and fishing environments have become ‘lively’ and active in the present, but in fact, historically it was ever thus. How might North Korea’s citizens, both human and non-human conceive of and negotiate their places at historical, geo-political, regional and local scales, (re)constructing new forms of ‘informal life politics’ and ‘vibrant matter’ in a North Korea of permanent transition.

Item Type: Book Chapter or Section
Divisions: School of Science
Date Deposited: 25 Feb 2020 14:55
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2020 14:28
Request a change to this item or report an issue Request a change to this item or report an issue
Update item (repository staff only) Update item (repository staff only)