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Women in the Sky

Women in the Sky

Gender and Labor in the Making of Modern Korea


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Published by: Cornell University Press

294 pages, 152.00 x 229.00 mm, 4 b&w halftones, 1 map

  • ISBN: 9781501758263
  • Published: August 2021

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Women in the Sky examines Korean women factory workers' century-long activism, from the 1920s to the present, with a focus on gender politics both in the labor movement and in the larger society. It highlights several key moments in colonial and postcolonial Korean history when factory women commanded the attention of the larger society, including the early 1930s rubber shoe workers' general strike in Pyongyang, the early 1950s textile workers' struggle in South Korea, the 1970s "democratic" union movement led by female factory workers, and women workers' activism against neoliberal restructuring in recent decades.

Hwasook Nam asks why women workers in South Korea, despite a century of persistent militant struggle and their indisputable contributions to the labor movement and the successful democracy movement, have been relegated to the periphery in activist and mainstream narratives. Women in the Sky opens and closes with stories of high-altitude sit-ins—a phenomenon unique to South Korea—beginning with rubber shoe worker Kang Churyong's sit-in in 1931 and ending with numerous sit-ins in the South Korean labor movement today, including that of Kim Jin-sook.

Women in the Sky tries to understand and rectify the vast gap between the crucial roles women industrial workers played in the process of Korea's modernization and their relative invisibility as key players in social and historical narratives. By using gender and class as analytical categories, Nam presents a comprehensive study and rethinking of twentieth-century nation-building history of Korea through the lens of female industrial worker activism.