Fresh Faculty: Eunmi Mun
Issue   |   Wed, 02/12/2014 - 01:08

Assistant Professor of Sociology Eunmi Mun received a B.A. with honors from Seoul National Univ. where she majored in Sociology. She also received an M.A. in Sociology from Seoul National University. She earned her Ph.D. from Harvard in 2011. She is the first Asian faculty member in the Sociology Department, as well as the first Korean faculty member in the history of Amherst College.

Q: How did begin studying sociology?
A: I was a sociology major as an undergraduate in South Korea and I actually studied in the sociology department while I was in high school. I was really interested in sociology without actually knowing what sociology was. I was raised in a very, very conservative area in South Korea and I just thought that this society was so unfair. I was this 15, 16-year-old girl who was so angry about everything that was happening around me. I just thought there was something going on in the outer environment that I didn’t understand that I really wanted to know about. I hoped that it would help me understand myself as well, why I was so angry about these things.
I think my gut feeling was correct, because sociology is basically about how societies operate and the relationships between social structures and individuals. I had a very general understanding of sociology as a high school student and I learned more about it in college, which is how I become more and more interested in pursuing a Ph.D. in this discipline.

Q: What was it like to transition from the South Korean educational system to the American system of graduate education?
A: There are actually a lot of differences between them. The biggest gap that I saw after I came here was the kind of interactions that students had inside and outside of class. In South Korea, things mostly happened outside of the classroom, so interaction with professors was not that much, to be honest. We did interact, but the relationship between professors and students was not that tight.
The kind of intellectual communication and interactions amongst students [at Harvard] was not as intense as I experienced in South Korea, but there was a lot more going on in a classroom setting. The professors were a lot more hands-on.

Q: Why did you decide to teach at Amherst?
A: I heard a lot about Amherst from two friends in had in the sociology department at Harvard; both of them spoke really highly about Amherst. It seemed like they really had a very important experience in their lives at Amherst — that was something that was quite surprising. I enjoyed my undergraduate days but that was just one portion of my life. They described it as if it was really critical time period in which they really felt like they transformed and changed. That really intrigued me. That’s how I became more interested in Amherst. Liberal arts education is also very American — South Korea does not have liberal arts education, so that was also quite interesting.
I had a chance to give a talk here and I really enjoyed the environment. I’ve never been in a small school like this, but when I came here to give my job talk it was the friendliest environment. That was another really important reason that I wanted to come to Amherst.

Q: What are you researching, and how did you become interested in it?
A: I’m really interested in gender and I’m also really interested in labor markers and economic institutions. This is actually tied to a previous question; I was really interested in gender inequality as a high school student. I started reading about gender and gender inequality — another very angry moment — and things just don’t change much. And I wondered, “Why don’t things change?” That was the question that I got from my undergraduate education. I think it’s really important for undergraduates to get their own questions, kind of life questions, the questions that you really want to answer, the questions that bother you.
I started working on gender inequality, that kind of research. My dissertation was exactly on that issue: that we’ve made so many efforts, that there are so many policies, there are laws to make improvements. We see some improvements, but why do we still have this persistent gender gap? I became really interested in the Equal Employment Opportunity Law.
I also became really interested in Japan for a different reason and I got really interested in why the EEOL law basically failed in Japan. Is it because Japanese people are discriminatory and do not find women valuable in the labor market? That was what my research was about for my dissertation.

Q: What classes are you teaching this semester?
A: Currently, I’m teaching Gender and Work and another course called Asian Capitalism.
Gender and Work is basically about why women achieve less than men in the labor market; we go through what the workplace looks like and how people interact in the workplace setting. It’s all about workplace processes that undergraduates don’t usually think about when they think about getting a job, working, and things like that. This class is all about life after college.
Asian Capitalism is another course that I teach, and that course is about different capitalisms, basically. We’re interested in how economic institutions look very different and operate differently in different national contexts. We analyze Asian societies, but overall the direction that we are going is to understand why we see different kinds of economic institutions and economic rationalizations.

Q: What do you hope to contribute to Amherst during your time here?
A: On a kind of general level, I’d like to contribute to this very friendly community. I’d like to be a part of it and I’d like to support colleagues and students; that’s definitely one thing I’d like to do. I’d also like to contribute to the transformation of this college. If there is anything that needs more new faculty members’ input, I’d like to be part of it.
On a more personal level, upon coming here I realized that there are not that many Asian faculty members. I came to the Sociology Department as the very first Asian faculty member and I was even told that I was the very first Korean faculty member in the history of the college. I think this is an opportunity for me to communicate the kind of cultural background that I have with people in this community who don’t know anything about it. I feel like the kind of courses that I am offering, especially about Asian capitalism, have never been taught on this campus, which is something that I thought was quite interesting. It definitely should be one of my biggest contributions to this college.