Theses Doctoral

Music, Politics, and Indigenization in the DPRK (1945–1991)

Moody, Peter

This dissertation examines how cultural initiatives involving music shaped North Korean politics and social life from the time of liberation from Japanese colonialism in 1945 to the fall of Communism across Eastern Europe in 1991. For the past several decades, international observers have interpreted the politics and culture of North Korea through the trope of the “hermit kingdom”: idiosyncratic, isolated, and resistant to outside influences. Yet music is one area in which the DPRK actively sought out congruence and intelligibility vis-à-vis the rest of the world. The main argument of the dissertation is that the DPRK's utilization of music for political purposes indicates a larger pattern of indigenization, i.e., incorporating cultural practices from a global context and then enveloping them into local routines and circumstances.

The overall methodological approach I take is multivocality, which in the context of this study entails venturing beyond the hegemonic texts attributed to the leaders and foregrounding the perspectives of musicians and musicologists as articulated in their DPRK-published writings. The sources I make use of — newspapers, journals administered by cultural organizations, songbooks, and other published texts — reveal that leading music figures did not shy away from envisioning the proximity of DPRK sonic culture to that of the rest of the world, even as they asserted its national particularities. Overall, despite the DPRK’s ultranationalist rhetoric, the politics and policies surrounding music creation and performance demonstrate that North Korea has extensively utilized rather than simply rejected influences from abroad. These international influences have facilitated rather than inhibited the maintenance of the North Korean political system.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
East Asian Languages and Cultures
Thesis Advisors
Pflugfelder, Gregory M.
Kim, Jungwon
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 15, 2023