Jeong Eun Annabel We’s Dissertation Defense in the Time of a Pandemic

By: Jeong Eun Annabel We

It is inevitable: the sound of hail on a Spring morning will always remind me of the feat of a finished dissertation.

My entirely virtual dissertation defense took place on a cloudy Monday morning, with light hail (March 23, 2020). Members of my committee and I greeted each other from our respective rooms and proceeded to discuss the culmination of seven years of training and writing. Thankfully, the defense went swimmingly and without a glitch. It had been difficult to quiet all that has been going on as I prepared for my defense. The program and my committee members endeavored to make this virtual defense possible, which was no small feat in our present circumstances.

The irony of defending in relative immobility, put in place by the quarantine measures, is not lost on me. My dissertation, entitled “Decolonizing Mobility in the Postwar Transpacific,” examines how conditions of mobility and immobility are unevenly created under military and economic occupations in the Pacific, focusing on South Korea. Engaging the philosophical and literary reflections of East Asian, diasporic, and Native American thinkers and writers on im/mobility, it argues that alternative organization of life is found in the very conditions of immobility.

My committee members shared their questions on the work’s location as well as the use of speculative fictions as an object of analysis. Because each member has been my interlocutor from different fields of study (Decolonial Thought, Korean literature, Comparative Literature, Gender and Sexuality Studies, and Disability Studies), the defense discussions too, took an interdisciplinary shape to reflect such engagements. Although we lacked the audience members of the more customary open defense, it was great to receive engaging questions from scholars whose work has informed my thinking, and no less in a trying time.

Although the defense marks, in one sense, the end of a long trajectory of graduate training, it also marks the beginning of the life of a seven-year-long idea becoming a project of its own standing. I am excited to follow its life from this other side, and I thank all those who made it possible.