University of Hong Kong (Hong Kong)


This project examines the effects of South Korea’s Covid-19 pandemic response on the Korean nation, governance, and citizenship. In particular, it examines how the surveillance technologies and techniques, lauded by many around the world as a template for contact tracing elsewhere, deliberately target non-normative behaviors and practices of Korean citizens (such as collecting financial data and tracking mobile phone GPS). We explore the social costs of mass surveillance with the case study of the May 2020 outbreak within Korean queer communities and subsequent nationwide homophobia. In addition to collecting and recording a multitude of private information about those who test positive, the Korean government reports much of the individual’s movements, general employment status (e.g., an office worker at a medium-sized textile firm), age and gender, and living conditions to the general public. With the May 2020 outbreak, sharing such personal information about the initial patient led to media reports outing the individual as gay, implicating queer spaces and communities based on the patient’s movements. In response, queer and human rights activists quickly denounced the homophobia, taking aim at the media’s blame of queer communities and the lack of privacy around testing. This project interrogates how these technologies and techniques create images of healthy bodies and good citizens by conducting digital ethnography of queer activism and communities as they respond to being blamed because of their non-normative behaviors and practices.

Principal Investigators

Timothy Gitzen

Postdoctoral Fellow, Society of Fellows in the Humanities, University of Hong Kong

Timothy Gitzen is an anthropologist, a writer, a speaker, a teacher, and a queer activist. He is a postdoctoral fellow in the Society of Fellows in the Humanities at the University of Hong Kong. Prior to this he was a Korea Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow at Indiana University’s Institute for Korean Studies. He received his PhD in sociocultural anthropology at the University of Minnesota. His research examines the intersection of national security and sexuality in South Korea, interrogating the production and management of the “queer threat” through a national security matrix that proliferates other threat figures. He has written on issues of queerness and kinship, militarization and toxic masculinity, trans bodies in the South Korean military, and queer trauma. His work has appeared in TSQ, the volume Queer Korea, and an upcoming issue of positions: asia critique.

Wonkeun Chun

Research Professor, Sookmyung Women's University

Wonkeun Chun is a sociologist and research professor at the Research Institute of Asian Women at Sookmyung Women’s University. His research focuses on the social history of homosexuality in South Korea, queer theory, and critical security studies. He has published on queer geopolitics in Asia, Cold War Korea, and the history of same-sex love in South Korea.