The Rise of “Gangnam Style”: Pursuing the Middle-Class Dream in South Korea

January 24, 2:30pm - 4:00pm
Mānoa Campus, Saunders 624 Add to Calendar

Presented by Myungji Yang, Department of Political Science.

Through the case of urban redevelopment plans in Gangnam, Seoul, I explore how the urban middle class, which mostly existed in official discourse in the 1960s and 70s, actually materialized in the 1980s. I argue that state-directed urban redevelopment plans and projects provided the material conditions under which a nascent urban middle class could benefit from the state policy and improve its standard of living. Through the apartment lottery system, the authoritarian state provided apartments at less than market value and allowed ordinary white-collar workers to become homeowners. The state-led development of Gangnam not only transformed the desolate area into a sea of high-rise apartments and modern skyscrapers, but also spatialized the concept of social class. The Gangnam case demonstrates that the process of class making goes hand in hand with “spatial production” that not only reorganizes urban space into a hierarchical form but also defines particular modes of living and social identification. The development of Gangnam as a place of middle-class apartment residents stratified residential space and cultivated distinctive lifestyles and class identities.

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