Founder’s Prize

2017 Winner: Jaeeun Kim, Contested Embrace: Transborder Membership Politics in Twentieth-Century Korea. (Stanford University Press, 2016)

A beautifully crafted work of historical sociology, Contested Embrace draws on extensive ethnographic and archival research in South Korea, Japan, and Manchuria to challenge the assumption that membership in transborder nations is an ethnodemographic fact. It does so by tracing how the categories of Korean transborder communities were created, and how individuals claimed membership in these categories. These questions had surprisingly varied and contested answers across a century of different regimes in Manchuria, the Korean peninsula, and the Japanese archipelago.

Korea can appear to be the ideal type of a homogenous nation, whose intense ethnic nationalism should have made people in the homeland embrace ethnic Koreans living abroad as extended parts of their home societies as a matter of course. In fact, however, there were periods when Seoul or Pyongyang rejected expatriates’ demands for inclusion into a transborder nation. At other times, ethnic Koreans in Japan and China responded with ambivalence and suspicion when the two homelands competed to recruit them into their own definition of a national community.

Kim’s subject matter is a complex and changing web of attitudes, pressures, laws, deviations from and subversions of laws, and personal longings. Clear analysis and rigorous theoretical argumentation alternate with vivid narratives from the lives of individuals whom Kim has interviewed or encountered in her archival work. Kim’s archival and printed sources and often stand in productive tension with her ethnographic work, the former documenting official attitudes and state projects, the latter uncovering the strategies individuals developed to pursue their own cross-border agendas when they ran counter to those of the homeland governments.

One particularly attractive feature of this fine study is that it is thoughtful and transparent about its limitations – for example when documents are still unreleased (China and North Korea), when participants cannot be interviewed (North Korea), or when the author’s choice of interview language in Japan (Korean in the inflection of Seoul) may have biased her sample and shaped her interlocutors’ responses. Ambitious in its research design, subtle in its arguments, and judicious in its conclusions, Contested Embrace is an exemplary work of social science history.

Past Winners

Year Author Institution Title
2017 Richard Sutch “The One Percent across Two Centuries: A Replication of Thomas Picketty’s Data on the Concentration of Wealth in the United States”
2015 Rebecca Jean Emigh, Dylan Riley, Patricia Ahmed The Racialization of Legal Categories in the First U.S. Census
2014 Andrew Walder Rebellion and Repression in China, 1966-1971


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