Project summary

This research blog presents the activities of the ANR (French National Research Agency) project “City-NKor”1: “City, Architecture and Urbanism in North Korea” (2018-2021).

Combining area studies and social sciences, this multidisciplinary project brings together three partners (the EHESS, the EFEO and Leiden University) that all occupy a pioneering position in the study of (North) Korea today. City-NKor proposes an approach to North Korea that differs radically from the prevailing, oftentimes normative focus on security issues, human rights, international relations or politics, deploying a performative perspective that reduces the country to an object of foreign policies. Instead, City-NKor adopts a posture of engagement with North Korea by focusing on a specific object: the city.

With an urbanized population of nearly 60%, North Korea presents contradictory indexes of development (an industrial economy, a low birth rate and a high literacy rate co-existing with high levels of poverty), which raises intriguing questions regarding the North Korean crisis. City-NKor engages these questions by focusing on the city in North Korea, as the enduring core of North Korean model of socialist construction.


Research framework

The City-Nkor team works on three major directions:

  1. How to better historicize the trajectory of North Korean cities?
  2. How to articulate better urban forms, morphology and architecture with social content? How to go beyond the analysis of cities as stages?
  3. How to unlock the study of North Korean cities by situating them within the greater ensemble of the (post-)socialist urban world?


Coordination & research team

  • Valérie Gelézeau (EHESS, Paris) – Initiator of the ANR City-NKor project, general scientific coordination and supervisor of workshops organization with the University of Architecture of Pyongyang.
  • Elisabeth Chabanol (EFEO, Seoul) – Scientific coordination and director of the Franco-North-Korean Archaeological Mission in Kaesong, MEAE.

City-NKor is based on the multidisciplinary expertise of 9 scholars in 9 disciplines of the social sciences including anthropology, archaeology, architecture, epigraphy, economy, geography, history (more particularly social, cultural and political), literature and visual studies. The core of the project focus on fieldworks like, for example, the archaeological excavation campaigns in Kaesong and the organization of joint workshops with the Pyongyang University of Architecture. Every project of City-NKor includes the development of direct contacts with already identified and contacted North Korean partners.


Ethics and risks management

Through our perspectives and scientific methods, City-NKor challenges conventional knowledge about North Korea. Confronting and critically addressing the notion of North Korean totalitarianism, the project distances itself from the orientalization of North Korea as ‘global Other’ and the rarely challenged moralizing perspective that comes with it. Such a position entails many political and scientific pitfalls that City-NKor seeks to avoid through solid theoretical grounding, long-term on the ground experience, and a collective ethics protocol.

Members of the ethics and risks management protocol:

  • Elisabeth Chabanol (EFEO, Seoul),
  • Antoine Bondaz (Foundation for Strategic Research, FRS),
  • Koen De Ceuster (University of Leiden, Netherlands),
  • Valérie Gelézeau (EHESS, Paris),
  • Pauline Guinard (ENS),
  • Johan Michel (University of Poitiers).



City-NKor seeks knowledge distribution and transfer through seminars and workshops in Paris/Leiden and Seoul, as well as through publications. On top of pushing epistemological boundaries in East Asian studies, City-NKor assumes a role as cultural and social mediator for media, policy making, and business regarding North Korea.


To quote this research blog

Unless otherwise stated, to quote a resource or an article present on the blog, the following mentions are to be included:

– City-NKor project, ANR-17-CE27-0012, 2018-2023.

Permanent link to the project City-NKor on the ANR website



If you have questions or if you have any general research or information needs, please do not hesitate to reach out:

city.nkor [at] gmail.com

  1. The City-NKor project (ANR-17-CE27-0012, 2018-2023) is funded by the French National Research Agency (ANR). []
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