The North Korea watchers: An ethnographic study of an expert community

Propaganda in North Korea

Event details


Date & time

Tuesday 30 July 2019


Seminar Room 2, (Room 3.03/3.04), Level 3, Sir Roland Wilson Building 120, ANU
ANU Canberra


Jeffrey Robertson


Yanhong Ouyang

During 2017-18, the risk of conflict on the Korean peninsula increased. Between Kim Jong-un, Moon Jae-in, and Donald Trump, a perfect storm of populism and strategic change saw a frantic rhythm of events. This led to an explosion in the growth of ‘North Korea watchers’ – the community of scholars, analysts, government officers, NGO advocates, and journalists who for one reason or another, commit a portion of their lives to watching North Korea.

They are online, at conferences, workshops, and at impromptu events addressing emerging crises. They share a very real cultural identity – a sense of common understanding; recognition of familiar language, symbols, and narratives; and in broad terms, even a shared sense of mission. They play a vital role in public debate on a critical strategic issue. They inform both the public and government on issues that could lead to cataclysmic conflict - but who are the North Korea watchers?

This seminar will explore the distinctiveness of English language policy discourse on North Korea; the widely used narratives and implications for policy discourse on North Korea; and will touch upon the progress to date in the ultimate aim of the research: to conduct an ethnographic study of an expert community – the North Korea watchers.

Dr Jeffrey Robertson is a Visiting Fellow at the Asia-Pacific College of Diplomacy (APCD) at The Australian National University (ANU), and an Associate Professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea. Before moving to academia, he worked for the Australian Government in the field of foreign policy and North Asia, focusing on China, the Korean Peninsula, and Japan. His recent text Diplomatic Style and Foreign Policy: A Case Study of South Korea (Routledge, 2016) explores the analytical insight gained through the recognition and comprehension of diplomatic style. His research interests include diplomatic practice, foreign policy, and Korean peninsula affairs.

Dr Lauren Richardson, Director of Studies and Lecturer at the APCD will chair the seminar.

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