Curative Violence: Rehabilitating Disability, Gender, and Sexuality in Modern Korea is a brilliant piece of intersectional, transnational, and interdisciplinary scholarship that situates the harms that accompany cure-based ideologies and practices within historical and contemporary Korean political contexts. In this groundbreaking piece of transnational feminist disability studies scholarship, Eunjung Kim, who is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Women's and Gender Studies at Syracuse University, interrogates how disability has been used as a metaphor to support the anticolonial desire to fix/repair the nation. She argues that this valorization of a cure continues to inform the current social and political climate in which disabled women activists work for change. Organized into chapters that address the interconnectedness of disability, family, and the state, this book lays bare the social, cultural, political, and economic factors that complicate if, when, and how the presence of disability has space in both the present and in the future.
Like many other disability activists and scholars, Kim understands that biomedical and dominant cultural notions of the cure typically identify any presence of disability as a problem and locate that problem within the individual, which necessarily obscures historical, institutional, social, and political anti-disability ideologies. Kim traces Korean cultural representations of disability from colonial Korea (Chosŏn) during Japanese rule to the modern heteropatriarchal capitalist state and situates them in the efforts of women with disabilities who advocate for livable lives free from violence. She argues that, "images of cure often feature intended and unintended violence that disfigures disability or further destroys disabled subjects" (p 226). This violence and disfigurement, as Kim demonstrates throughout the book, is multi-tiered and can be found inside the home, within the community, and in national and transnational policies.
A major contribution of this book is how Kim engages with both an explicit exposure and critique of curative violence and a nuanced acknowledgement of the social and material realities that inform the pursuit of bodily interventions. Kim makes it clear that her critique of curative violence is rooted in broader contexts that perpetuate harm against individuals and communities, and this allows room for important discussions about the lived experiences that facilitate these biomedical interventions. Much like Eli Clare in Brilliant Imperfection: Grappling with Cure (Duke University Press, 2017), Kim is diligently aware of the various material realities and other motivating factors that bring people to seek bodily intervention(s). This diligence is reflected in her guiding questions: 1) In what ways has/does cure become understood as the [only] way to make life livable, and 2) How does cure constrain efforts to facilitate various ways to make life livable?
Kim draws on Judith Butler's concept of "normative violence" and presents curative violence as occurring when "cure is what actually frames the presence of disability as a problem and ends up destroying the subject in the curative process" (p. 14). Just as Alison Kafer rejects the future-oriented "curative imaginary" and instead focuses on what a recognition of "crip time" could mean, Kim highlights the violence that accompanies the quest for a cure when there is little to no engagement with the implications of such a quest. Kim explains that in order to work effectively towards a future that is livable and without violence, we must acknowledge this violence and make spaces for the presence of disability. A primary strength of this book is her comprehensive analysis of how affect has been mobilized via disabled images and imaginaries in order to promote a normalized ethno-nation-state, which obscures the harm and violence of the quest for a cure.
This book could not be more relevant, particularly given the recent explicit and public sentiments in the U.S. that call for a normalized ethno-nation-state and the continued attrition of state-funded safety nets for disenfranchised peoples. I find Kim's nuanced understandings of how violence is both enacted and experienced, at multiple levels, to be intellectually refreshing. Her meticulous analysis of how affective responses have been used in ways that perpetuate anti-disability sentiments and overall Korean nationalism serves as a model of what can be made possible using a transnational feminist analysis of disability, violence, and popular culture. Her careful attention to the curative violence associated with various histories of eugenics, deinstitutionalization, politics of reproduction, and the parameters of neoliberal capitalism allow for — if not require — an alternative ontology of the present.
Readers will likely finish this book with an intense curiosity about both if and how disability and nationalism have been strategically enmeshed in other national and/or post-colonial contexts and how a cogent analysis of curative violence can be made possible from a transnational feminist disability studies perspective. Future scholarship will hopefully incorporate Robert McRuer's notion of disability nationalism to further engage with Kim's analysis of how curative violence has been used to prop up racial/ethnic nationalism in other national and transnational contexts, particularly in nations that have greater racial and ethnic diversity than Korea. How are anti-disability sentiments mobilized through state policy and cultural representations? To what degree does the government shape and/or limit people with disabilities' possibilities for negotiation and self-determination, and how are those possibilities racialized, gendered, and classed? Curative Violence, both its structure and content, is written in an approachable manner, which makes it a must-read for undergraduate students and established scholars alike.