What a column is all about

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What a column is all about

Kang Nam-soon
The author is a professor of theology and religion at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University.


Columns are everywhere. But what is a column? What makes a column a column? What is the meaning and goal of a column? Asking these “root questions” gives me a complex perspective about a certain topic beyond the simple dictionary definition.

The root questions cannot be answered with a “yes” or a “no.” By looking at seemingly simple topics, the root questions invite us to the profound world of thoughts. Asking multi-layered “root questions” on columns works as a device to expand awareness necessary to highlight the social functions of the columns seen everywhere as well as the responsibilities and tasks.

According to Webster’s Dictionary, a column is “a section of a newspaper or magazine regularly devoted to a particular subject or written by a particular person.” What does this dictionary definition tell us? Not much. If you want to know the inner world of columns, you need to ask the root questions.

The new insight is possible by intervening in the “world beyond the dictionary.” As I began writing columns here, I often face the root question of “what is a column?” I want to reconstruct the social meaning and goal of a column through the root question.

A column is a “space of power” producing knowledge about the society. In a society, being a part of the knowledge production process is itself “power.” The person with “column power” has the option of choosing a certain topic among countless subjects and proposing it as something “important.”

By projecting his or her own values, human outlook, world view and political stance, the author gets to produce knowledge on the certain topic. The person with the column power of producing knowledge needs to ask the root questions. “What kind of knowledge” do I produce? “Whose benefit” will the knowledge contribute to expand? What kind of future society does that knowledge pursue? People have different answers to these questions, and there is no absolute answer. It only tells us what a column means to “me.”

First, the person wielding jurisdiction over the column should be a “critic in the periphery.” The author needs to keep “critical distancing” from the center forming the political, economic, educational, cultural and religious power of society. One can only point out what kind of society we are creating by simultaneously looking at the multi-layered axis of the center and the periphery.

Here, the center and the periphery are not fixed. They are always linked to specific circumstances. One can be the center in a certain situation but the periphery in another. That’s why a complex look is necessary on a certain topic.

Second, the column as a space for knowledge production is given the task of creating knowledge to expand the knowledge of freedom, equality and justice for “all,” not a certain group of people. “All” is not an abstract meaning. It refers to all specific and distinct individuals. By making sure no individual is not guaranteed human rights or experiences multi-layered discrimination or exclusion, a just society for “all” should be pursued.

A column should contain knowledge to expand such awareness. Column writers need to constantly study complex understandings of discrimination and exclusions in the modern society.

Third, the column is a “space for advocacy.” Who, what value, what world and what future society will it represent? It is the responsible task for the author and readers to tackle.

Fourth, a column is a “space for persuasion.” It is not for protection or expansion of power for a certain person or group. It is a space to persuade members of the society to agree on values for an equal society where no one is discriminated based on gender, race, class, education, disability, sexual orientation, nationality or religion. The space of persuasion can serve as an invitation to the members of the society to become the “subject of transformation.”

Fifth, a column should be a “space to remember the future.” What is remembering the future? While intensely engaging in “today’s world,” the “coming world” is cultivated. The world of freedom, equality, justice and alliance for all humanity is “the world that hasn’t come yet.”

The history of humanity has expanded the circle of equality and justice by the few who remember the upcoming future. Only a society that remembers the future has hopes. The memory for the future revives the passion for transformation towards a world better than present. Columns have a grave social responsibility.

What is the future society that a column needs to show and present? The tasks for the authors and readers are not giving up the critical contemplation between “today’s world” and “the world that hasn’t come yet” and engaging in today’s world while remembering the future world.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

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