Sonia Ryang, professor of anthropology in the University of Iowa, will undertake research on how culture and personality are developed and maintained in totalitarian contexts. Dr. Ryang explores this in the context of North Korea, one of the most reclusive totalitarian regimes in the world. Three specific aims are pursued in this research: (1) to place North Korea in the context of currently existing anthropological knowledge; (2) to render the mechanism that secures the connection between the people and the leader in North Korea intelligible; (3) to explore the concept of agency, with the focus on the concept of self, in North Korea. The research involves multi-lingual, multi-media, and mixed-method approach by comprehensively surveying and analyzing written and audio-visual materials in three languages of Korean, Japanese and English, combined with interviews with North Korean refugees.
The project will contribute to anthropological and broader social scientific understandings of totalitarianism by exploring the cultural logics that are used to rationalize and sustain it within these societies.
In contributing to our understanding of a part of the world that we know very little about, a nuclear-armed nation with whom the United States has had over a half-century of hostilities, the project contributes significantly to improving national security. The most famous of the early culture and personality studies in anthropology were watershed studies of Japan during World War II, which were enormously influential to the U.S. Government both during and after the war.