Universiteit Leiden

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Hyo Jin Pak

PhD candidate

Dr. H.J. Pak
+31 71 527 4203

Fields of interest

  • Korean studies
  • Waste studies
  • Environmental humanities

My interest lies at the intersection of labor and the environment


My Ph.D. project, "Refuse and Refusal: Laboring Waste and Wasting Labor in Developing South Korea" chronicles the South Korean development experience through its remnants. It proposes that waste, as both a material and a metaphor, can reframe our understanding of South Korean economic development between the 1960s and the 1990s. This dissertation focuses on the management of waste and the organization/regulation of informal waste labor as a lens to reveal the social and environmental costs and consequences of South Korean development: It traces the trajectories of waste pickers through their collective living arrangements between the 1960s and the early 1990s and juxtaposes their experience with the reconfiguration of waste, the transformation of its management, and shifting urban spatial politics.

This study engages with waste and discard studies to analyze the devaluing, wasting, and discarding of informal waste labor as “a technique of power.” It asks who benefits from specific wasting/discarding practices, examining how the developing nation-state appropriated this labor and, once it became redundant, why it was neglected and at times discarded. It also connects the symbolic discourses of waste to the management of material waste and its labor to demonstrate 1) the changes in the understanding of material waste and its labor, and 2) how this shift reveals the unseen connections between the lives and labor of these marginalized groups and the lives and lifestyles of the rest of the population.

By analyzing what has been considered a deviant and illicit practice as a form of labor and an agent of industrialization and development, this dissertation positions waste pickers, as a subset of the urban underclass/urban poor, to the ideas of development and economic growth, normativity and citizenship, signaling that their marginalization served to consolidate the developing nation-state and its middle-class citizens. It reveals not only a historical aspect of the urban poor, but how their lives intertwined with everyday material practice, the social process of disposal, and development’s inevitable social, economic, and spatial inequalities; it advances our understanding of the production and the erasure of marginal populations in societies, suggesting this wasting and discarding as the epitome of the wastefulness ingrained in economic growth and the process of development.

PhD candidate

  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies
  • SAS Japan


  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Leiden Institute for Area Studies
  • SAS China


No relevant ancillary activities

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