Inter-Asia Cultural Studies: Movements

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  »  Issues Contents  2009-07-01 College rank and neo-liberal subjectivity in South Korea


College rank and neo-liberal subjectivity in South Korea: the burden of self-development
Nancy ABELMANN, So Jin PARK, and Hyunhee KIM
Abstract This paper explores the ways in which contemporary college students in South Korea inhabit new discourses of human development in the context of South Korea's neo-liberal turn and globalization. By using ethnographic methods, we examine the lives of college students across three campuses, a top-tier private school and two mid-tier schools. The college students who we introduce all aspire to and accept the burden of managing their personal formation for a changing world. We note that the individuated way in which they narrate and take responsibility for their circumstances and predicaments is quite new and resonant with discussions of neo-liberal subjectivity. We show, however, how the burden of self-development is borne variously, according to differences in the 'brand capital' of the students' university, gender, and family background. We argue that neo-liberal subjectivity, highlighting personal ability, style, and responsibility, works to obscure escalating structural inequality in South Korea.
Keywords: neo-liberal subjectivity; college students; college rank; self-development
Authors’ biographies
Nancy Abelmann is the Harry E. Preble Professor of Anthropology, Asian American Studies, East Asian Languages and Cultures, and Gender & Women’s Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she also co-directs the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI). She has published books on South Korean social movements; women and social mobility; the L.A. Riots; Korean film; and Korean American college students.
So Jin Park is a research fellow at the Institute for Social Development Studies at Yonsei University and also teaches at Yonsei University. Her main research interests include the globalization and privatization of education, the transformation of maternal subjectivity, and the articulation of class, gender, and urban space.
Hyunhee Kim is a PhD candidate in anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Her dissertation entitled ‘Ethnic Intimacy: Race, Law, Citizenship in Korean America’ investigates the reproduction of legality/illegality and its articulation with racialization in the Korean American community in New York City.

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