Faculty Spotlight: Gi-Wook Shin


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Gi-Wook Shin, director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center and professor of sociology, has been at Stanford for the past 13 years.

“Teaching doesn’t stop after class—it shapes and develops into many different avenues.”

Perhaps this is a guiding belief behind Gi-Wook Shin, director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC) at Stanford.

Known for his directorship at Shorenstein APARC, Shin is also recognized as a professor of sociology and in the leading role of the Korea Program that he founded more than a decade ago. In this inaugural Faculty Spotlight Q&A, Shin talks courses, research and administration—and perhaps most poignantly—about the ongoing collaboration with students far beyond their time at Stanford.

What are you looking forward to with the Center in year 2014?

As you may know, Shorenstein APARC is entering its thirty-first year and we have much to be pleased with. Our six well-established programs are strong in their approach to interdisciplinary research and policy-oriented outcomes. As director, my goal is to support the success of these programs in broaching questions and guiding purposeful interaction between the United States and Asia.

Political transition, demographic change, and economic development are being seen at varying levels across Asia. At the same time, regional tensions continue to rise and shifting internal dynamics signal unrest. The need for dialogue and new perspectives is essential. We must ask the question: how can we constructively engage?

In February, for example, the Koret Conference will examine opportunities for the outside world to engage with North Korea. Given the current security situation, this dialogue is not incredibly easy, but it is essential. This conference will bring experts to Stanford’s campus who will create a strong policy report and offer insight into the foreign policy debate. The year ahead at Shorenstein APARC presents many opportunities for students, affiliates, and the surrounding community to become involved.

This quarter, you are teaching the course “Nations & Nationalism” and often teach a variety of comparative courses on politics and sociology – what do you find most challenging about teaching?

Shin: For me, a challenging aspect of teaching is finding a balance between teaching theory and equipping students with the tools to approach real-world problems. I do not wish for students to leave with purely theoretical and scholarly arguments; my aim is to give students the means to ask questions and prepare them to sort out today’s complex challenges.

Nationalism remains an important challenge. As we can see in Northeast Asia today, the tension among China, Japan and the Koreas speaks to the interdisciplinary relationship between nation and society—political ramifications caused in part by long-standing historical narratives. In my course, students survey major works and consider a wide range of regional and domestic factors that contribute to political identity. 

Having been at Stanford since 2001 as a senior fellow at FSI and a professor of sociology, what do you most enjoy about working here?

Shin: Stanford provides constant opportunities to learn and engage with new people. Fellows and corporate affiliates join us at Shorenstein APARC each year. It is a pleasure to meet, work and engage in conversation with such a wide variety of scholars and professionals. This is what I have enjoyed most about the Stanford community—meeting very good people in my 13 years here.

It’s especially rewarding to see my students succeed after their time at Stanford. Even after leaving campus, many of my former students continue to work in collaboration with me. For instance, I worked with Paul Chang, an assistant professor of sociology at Harvard University, on a research project on social movements in Korea, which produced articles and a book. Currently, I am working on two collaborative projects with doctorate students I previously taught—one on global talent in Korea and the other on cultural diversity in Asian higher education and corporations.

Can you tell us about your research collaboration and upcoming work?

At present, I am working on three major research projects. My first project is a collaborative one with my former student, Joon Nak Choi, who is now an assistant professor at the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. Our book, which is currently under review by a major academic press, examines the spread of global talent from the viewpoint of social capital instead of human capital. While the “brain drain” perspective permeates most literature on global talent recruitment, we claim that the spread of global talent generates social capital, creates transnational bridges, and transfers positive returns back to the home country. As a Korean who has lived and worked in the United States for more than 30 years, this inquiry is especially salient to me.

A second project with another former student, Rennie Moon, an assistant professor at Yonsei University in Seoul, examines cultural diversity issues and challenges in Korea and Asia. We review current programs and policies in universities and corporations and investigate how promoting diversity in ethnically homogenous societies like Korea and Japan can contribute to innovation and creativity. Through this project, we seek to stimulate a much-needed conversation about the value of diversity in Korea and across Asia and what embracing diversity can mean and do for these societies. 

Similarly, I have been working on the final installment of the Divided Memories and Reconciliation project with Daniel C. Sneider, associate director for research at Shorenstein APARC. Through in-depth interviews with over 50 opinion leaders in Japan, Korea, South Korea and the United States, we have gathered and analyzed opinions on memories of the Pacific wars, which have become even more relevant as they manifest in current geopolitics. We are currently writing a book based on the interviews and this will conclude a multi-year research project on the Divided Memories that will have produced four books when this gets published.

All of these projects are based on rigorous academic research but also seek to draw policy implications and suggestions to solve real world issues and problems.

The Faculty Spotlight Q&A series highlights a different faculty member at Shorenstein APARC each month giving a personal look at his or her teaching approaches and outlook on related topics and upcoming activities.