Introducing the PhD students of Cultural history: Young Joo Hong

Kulttuurihistorian jatko-opiskelijoiden esittelysarjassa on vuorossa Etelä-Koreasta Turun yliopistoon opiskelemaan tullut Young Joo Hong, joka tekee väitöskirjaa siitä, millaista diskurssia eteläkorealaisissa lehdissä on käyty masennuksesta 1980-luvulta lähtien. Hän tutkii mistä tunteista ja tuntemuksista tuo diskurssi rakentuu ja miten korealaiset kuvaavat julkisesti näitä kipeitä kokemuksia.

1. What is your study about?

The topic of my study is emotion and depression discourse in modern South Korea. In my study, I attempt to rethink the notion of pathological depression and examine it as a discourse from a cultural-historical perspective. The analytical scope of my study is to review how depression was conceptualized in South Korean published newspapers from the 1980s onwards. With newspaper archives, I examine the public display of emotions and shared understandings of depression experience in the Korean context. My study’s main question is, which emotions and moods constitute the depression discourses? How do Korean people describe painful experiences in the public forum? My perspective regarding the conceptualization of depression is thus not aiming to know better than medical psychiatry but is to focus on expressions of emotional suffering from both a cultural and linguistic point of view.

Clips from South-Korean newspapers.

2. How does your research relate to the society of today?

My study is basically on the issue of depression and emotional pain, one of the most widely debated topics in the world. Even though depression in today’s modern global world is considered a common medical illness, the meanings of feeling down and depressive experience vary in time and space. Depression is understood differently according to culture and its interpretation varies with language. Thus, it is essential to examine the cultural and historical background in which depression has been discussed. In this sense, my research can be a good example of the cultural implications of the depressive mind and its social understandings. As my analysis highlights that emotional experience and expression are culturally mediated, it will provide context and help to broaden the discursive topic of depression to encompass all the relational themes (e.g. the emotional culture, the history of emotions).

3. What led you to cultural history in the first place?

I have been interested in language and history since my school days. While studying psychology as an undergraduate, I have become clear about what I want to study. I became interested in culture and narrative rather than numbers and diagnosis. I have always been more than fascinated with the experiences and stories. Back then, I had reading experiences that taught me to rethink and relearn my views on the study from the ground up. So, I continued my studies in an interdisciplinary department for my master’s studies, and at that time I naturally fell in love with(!) cultural studies. While participating in seminars on various topics (including gender, language, politics, economy, history, and culture), I became acquainted with the methodology of historical research and became intrigued by the history of emotions. I think part of my fascination with cultural history was from the fact that I could study what I want to focus on, that is, emotions, culture, and history. All in all, my interest was the driving force that made me come to Turku, and I think it was a life-changing decision to come to Finland like this.

4. What does cultural history mean to you?

For me, cultural history is more of an approach than a simple subject. Having the opportunity to study cultural history has helped me to discover what I cannot yet think about. Most of all, I find that studying cultural history makes me think outside of the box, and think differently about those issues that are usually considered taken for granted (e.g. emotions). When I study my research materials, I always feel the need to step back a bit, distance myself from the stuff, and begin to think more deeply about the context. In this contextualization, I can learn, even though it is hard, how to read between the lines. It also helps me to realize that history is built on remembering and forgetting. Cultural history is not just something of the past; it is ongoing. I thus feel that cultural historical perspective provides a good lens through which to view the world, both present, and past. As far as I can tell, there are many similarities and differences, continuities and changes in history. Though some might say cultural history is about memories and records at best, what I am certain of, however, is that there are things to be learned.

Young Joo Hong.

5. Tell a funny or surprising fact about yourself or about your research.

When I came here, the question I got the most from people was ”Why Finland?” Next was ”What is your research topic?” Every time I answer these interesting questions, I ask myself, how did I end up here? Actually, it still feels like a dream to me in Turku to study cultural history. It is my first time living outside of Korea for a long time, and especially here in Finland, I was new to the environment, the people, and the place, and everything seemed very challenging at first. But I have learned what I could not have learned from books through meetings and conversations with people. Indeed, I had an amazing start to my ‘new experience’ with historians! It is very special because all are truly an inspiration to me. Thanks to super friendly and kind people, I realize that there are so many things to love about Finland. And, surprisingly, I think I am already in love with the Finnish culture; find myself slowing down a bit, comfortable with peaceful silence, enjoying walking in nature, and best of all, my favorite is relaxing in a sauna!

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