Tears of Theory demonstrates the value of making storytelling and personal experience integral parts of International Relations (IR) scholarship. Through an examination of the disappearance of Korean Air (KAL) flight 858 in 1987, the book also explores what it means to conduct research in sensitive and difficult settings. According to South Korea, a female secret agent bombed the plane under instructions from the North Korean leadership, killing 115 people. Many unanswered questions emerged and resulted in two rounds of reinvestigations.
Taking this case in the context of the ongoing Cold War, Park-Kang presents the story about a researcher, whose life is deeply entangled with the Cold War mystery. The story is based on the author’s dramatic research journey of twenty years on the mysterious spy. The book will be of interest to students and scholars of IR, Asian/Korean Studies, Narrative Studies, Security Studies, Pedagogy and methodology.
Sungju Park-Kang is Adjunct Professor at the Centre for East Asian Studies, University of Turku, Finland. He is the author of Fictional International Relations: Gender, Pain and Truth.
Park-Kang demonstrates how much richer our investigations can be if we contemplate tears, insecurity, unknowing and the emotional responses of grief, pain and love. . . . It shows us how meaning can survive the pressures for research to be useful, effective and scientific. . . . This is a phenomenal contribution to narrative and autoethnographic IR.
My own favorite fictional sleuths are Icelandic, Japanese, Indian and Singaporean. All of them are storytelling-worriers. So is Sungju-Park-Kang. His investigation of the mysterious downing of flight KAL 858 has taken him into encounters with state intelligence agents, confused students, and unsettled survivors. Accompanying Park-Kang along theorizing’s ill-lighted corridors will ensure that IR will never look the same. Tears of Theory will stick with you.
This will be seen as one of the boldest efforts to date to craft a new style of writing about International Relations. An auto-ethnography combined with fiction and theory, the author challenges us to look at the international, not through a safe and reified detachment, but in a thoroughly unsafe way – itself a metaphor for the very unsafe world we purport to study.
From the Foreword:
Tears of Theory beautifully draws together stories of the personal, political, theoretical and international. It is “simply” theory – which for me, is profound. […] about failure and hurt but also, so importantly, about survival and the ability to transform wounds in the most luminous of ways.
Looks like a fascinating book, about a most important topic.
With strikingly honest writing and a rare fresh perspective, Tears of Theory at once reconceptualizes what International Relations (IR) theory ought to be, how IR scholarship ought to be practiced, and how one might think about the conflict in Korea. Equal parts empirical, imaginative, and autobiographical in his writing, Sungju Park-Kang has produced a must-read contribution!
Tears of Theory by Sungju Park-Kang is a powerful and brilliant example of a new form of narrative writing in International Relations. At once beautiful, sad, brave, funny and searingly honest, it weaves its way through the myriad complexities of international relations with genuinely original insights and delivers new, important perspectives rarely heard in Western scholarship. Most of all, I loved how the author, in the most humanistic way possible, and with sincere care for all the characters he encounters and writes about, brings real people back into scholarship. This is how the human finds its way into IR theory.
Tears of Theory has an essential value in connecting the story of the academic researcher with the story of the subject he examined, which offers an interesting symbiosis of colliding stories that have been bonded to each other. Theory settles certain rules we expect to achieve in foreseeing the future developments, but these rules are extensively based on our past experiences. Theoretical settlement, however, does not function properly without imagination. . . . This book, successfully handled by the author, confirms the importance of imagination to avoid falling into theoretical orthodoxies.
This book by Professor Sungju Park-Kang combines storytelling and personal experience during the past 20 years as integral parts of International Relations (IR) scholarship. In this way, it significantly enhances readers’ understanding of scholarly life. The author investigates the disappearance of Korean Air flight 858 in 1987 and clarifies what it means to conduct research on this sensitive issue. Although South Korea claims that a female secret agent bombed the plane receiving instructions from the North Korean leadership killing all 115 passengers, many unanswered questions emerged and led to two rounds of reinvestigations. The book will be of great interest, particularly to students and scholars of IR.
Sungju Park-Kang offers a highly personal road of introspection over a tragic event that has haunted him from his university studies, into his academic research, and throughout his university teaching career – the 1987 disappearance of flight KAL 858 over Burmese (Myanmar) waters, allegedly a result of North Korean terrorism. Along the way he agonizes over the extent to which he should mentally, and even physically, involve himself in the event, including the activities of the victims’ family members who seek answers to basic questions regarding the ill fate of the airplane and its 115 passengers. Park-Kang’s quest influences his research and teaching and his emphasis on inquiry as a primary road to truth.
Tears of Theory is a fascinating first-person account of one scholar’s obsession with finding out the truth about what brought down Korean Air flight 858 in 1987, taking 115 lives. This book reveals how difficult it is to maintain for decades a commitment to uncovering answers to politically sensitive questions. Though this work focuses on Korea, scholars of contemporary history anywhere, especially if they focus on controversial issues, can benefit from learning about Sungju Park-Kang’s experience.
Sungju Park-Kang is a scholar to admire. His drive to investigate the mystery of flight KAL 858 has forced him to look at everything and everyone in his professional and personal life differently. This was a joy to read as Sungju connects on a human level, with insight into the struggles of a scholar, and the rare but glowing reward when your blood, sweat, and tears pay off.
Tears of Theory is a gripping and thought-provoking read that gives powerful testament to the important role our own scholarly passion can play in the conduct of research. In this blend of personal narrative and academic theory, Sungju Park-Kang takes us through the ups and downs, triumphs and obstacles of a fascinating twenty-year research journey that will undoubtedly resonate with readers from various fields of study. This book makes a truly compelling case for the innovative potential of storytelling for the scholarship of International Relations and beyond.
Beautiful, heartbreaking, and insightful exploration into how academia and doing research breaks some of us, yet we can’t but go on and persist, because we care. Tears of theory gives me hope simply by existing as such a unique piece of writing.
This is such a human book, just like its title implies. It is also a book that teaches us about the author’s vision, and to what extent – although he has seemingly focused only on research on KAL 858 throughout his whole academic career – he is in fact an intellectual who possesses and provides us with a broad view of social and political life. This is a book that illustrates, as you read it page after page, the meaning of a theory that emerges from a story, and the importance of an emotional commitment to research, as well as the gratitude we need to acknowledge its author. I know no other academician who wrote such an open and candid account about his work and life, and no other book in International Relations that demonstrates how every life, of every person, matters. This is a book that stays with the reader long after one finishes reading it, one of those rare academic books that stays valid and relevant for many, many years.
Sungju Park-Kang has written an intriguing book, at the intersection of the personal and the political. Weaving together research, activism, teaching, and everyday hassles, he shows what International Relations means in practice, and how we can write and think differently about it. In his narrative, large and small traumas intertwine in surprising and eye-opening ways. Tears, unease, and failure come together with dedication, passion, and self-reflection, in the always open-ended marathon journey of academic work.
Tears of Theory explores sensitive, unspoken aspects of Korean history in the Cold War era and boldly experiments with new ways of using storytelling in International Relations scholarship. Park-Kang writes in an engaging, genre-defying way that foregrounds the research process and the entanglement of the personal with the fraught social issues that the study confronts in their full complexity.
This book offers a fascinating and innovative autoethnographical approach to the 1987 suspected bombing of the South Korean airliner KAL 858. Through examining how the author’s own life experiences as a researcher have been implicated in and shaped by the ongoing division of the Korean peninsula, the book offers a highly original approach to examining International Relations more broadly.
Original and lucidly written, Sungju Park-Kang’s book has refreshing unconventionality to it. Tears of Theory offers a highly personal and engaging multilayered study that addresses many sore points in contemporary Korean history, politics, and peninsular relations analyzing at the same time the challenges of being a scholar in contemporary academia researching a sensitive topic.
Tears of Theory is ‘theory that comes from the body’ in the truest sense: a gripping narrative that unfolds from the relentless, everyday negotiation of lived experience, memory, failures, aspirations, senses of selfhood, and otherness. In a detective’s quest of ‘truth’ it not only translates ‘tears’ – complex and often irresolvable situations and our vulnerability in navigating them – into powerful problematizations of research, teaching, and knowledge. It also shows – through the intimate crafting of the narrator’s voice and gaze – what storytelling may do as both scholarly ethos and research method in enabling transformation and understanding that also returns to and nourishes the (political) body.
Called into action by “the ghosts of KAL 858,” Park-Kang weaves the official and unofficial theories of the plane’s fate into a riveting study of surveillance, watch lists, government propaganda, repression, and fear at a time when democracy was still new and untested in South Korea. In my own investigations into KAL 858, including my reading of the handful of CIA reports on the incident, I’ve run into many contradictions, just as he did. Park-Kang’s book adds important details to a little-known story about the conflict between the two Koreas and their complicated relationship to the United States and Japan. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the Cold War and Korea’s place in the world.
This unique and creative book truly reimagines the boundaries of International Relations, theory, and the notion of ‘the personal is political.’ Sungju Park-Kang boldly takes readers on a journey that is personal, intimate, political, and global. It is both a story of the author’s journey, and a series of deep theoretical contributions and engagements. This work is exemplary of the space and intellectual freedom that is created by writing beyond disciplines.
Tears of Theory is an engrossing autobiography of a life lived through the event. A life haunted, inspired, troubled, and lived amid surveillance, censorship, and personal struggle. Elegantly written and told, this is a powerful autoethnography from the heart of the security state.