Her dissertation project examines the interstitial space created between the so-called informal sector and the existing institutions and social relations surrounding waste management from the early 1960s until the early 1990s. Trained in environmental studies, her broader research interests include political ecology, environment and labour, and life history.
In the dissertation, Pak looks at the development of Korean waste management, examining individuals and social groups that can be categorised as informal waste collectors. Taking case studies in contemporary Korea – Kŭllochaekŏndae and its variations of rag pickers’ organisations as well as the Nanji Landfill, Pak explores how the informal sector has emerged and been maintained, and how institutionalised waste management and informal practices can exist hand in hand.
Pak examines the interstitial space between the so-called informal sector and the existing institutions and social relations. More specifically, she addresses the questions of why the informals operated under close cooperation or coexistence with the state; what are the the processes of stigmatisation and social contagion that happened within that interstitial space; and how competing ideas of moral and social value are contested surrounding waste, wasted land (landfill), and the concerned population.