London Korean Links

Covering things Korean in London and beyond since 2006

SOAS seminar: The Vacillation of Culture in Neoliberal South Korea

I was really hoping to be able to get to this free talk in Thursday – it looks really interesting. But unfortunately I’m not going to be able to make it. Folks in Cambridge can catch Professor Kang on a similar topic on Friday 27th at Robinson College. If anyone wants to write up either talk for a guest post on LKL, do feel free:

The Vacillation of Culture in Neoliberal South Korea

Prof Kang Nae-HuiProfessor Kang Nae-hui (Chung-Ang University, Seoul, Korea)
Date: 26 January 2012 Time: 5:00 – 7:00 PM
Venue: 21/22 Russell Square
Room: T102


This talk focuses on how the concept and practice of culture as well as its social function have gone through transformations in the recent ascendancy of neoliberalism in South Korea. The neoliberalization of the country coincided with its “democratization” that changed the composition of the ruling bloc to reflect the movement of Capital from State to private interests. As neoliberalism took on the status of the dominant economic policy line, social transformations such as the structural adjustment of firms and factories, the flexibilization and temporarization of labour, the privatization of public spheres, and the polarization and povertization of the population took place, rendering almost everything into economic matters.

My thesis here is that these transformations fundamentally affected the way culture relates to politics and the economy. As the neoliberalizatin of the country intensified, politics was no longer able to determine the functions of the economy and culture, for it now was the economy that had a final say on the matters of politics and culture. As a result, culture that used to be the “handmaiden” of politics during the authoritarian regimes was also given a new mission: it had to add to the value of commodities. One may say that culture, as a consequence of its own exonomicization, gained a voice it could never have during the authoritarian years when it used to be called upon to serve political causes. The irony, however, is that culture was allowed this empowerment only insofar as it could prove its own economic effectivity.

To summarize, this talk will then trace how neoliberalization has affected the relationship among politics, the economy, and culture in South Korea, paying special attention to the way the concept, practice, and social function of culture have changed over the last three decades.


Professor KANG Nae-hui teaches cultural studies in the Department of English and the Graduate Program of Cultural Studies at Chung-ang University in Seoul. Publisher of the cultural studies journal Munhwa/Kwahak since 1992, he has also been responsible for the Korean edition of Traces, a multi-lingual series of translation and cultural theory. His publications have dealt with such topics as Korean colonial modernity, technologies of writing, the idea of cultural society, knowledge production and education reform, intellectual movements, and neoliberal dominance in South Korea. His published books include Korean culture and ‘communism’ in the age of neoliberalism (in Korean, 2008); Impacts of Modernities. Traces, Vol. 3 (Co-edited with Thomas Lamarre, 2004); Cultural transformations in South Korea and cultural politics (in Korean, 2003); Power of literature, value of literature (in Korean, 2003). Having finished his second term as chair of the executive committee of Marx Communale, a Marxist intellectuals’ organization formed to hold biennial conferences, he is widely active in Korean intellectual and social movements. Currently he is co-chair of Cultural Action, a major social movement organization.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.