Yongusil 61: Precarity and Neoliberal Normalization of Single Women in Korea
The University of Toronto, as ever a center of East Asian research and analysis, has been busy over the last few weeks. In the first of two postings addressing matters in southern Ontario, Sino-NK recounts academic interaction on a contentious Friday in Toronto.
In the midst of a campus labour dispute a group of Koreanists and Asian-focused scholars gathered on the campus periphery (but not the campus itself) to discuss new work by Jesook Song, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Toronto. Living on Your Own: Single Women, Rental Housing and Post-Revolutionary Affect in Contemporary South Korea (SUNY Press, 2014) was launched at the Workers’ Action Center on March 6, 2015.
Making extensive reference to Magalugi Undong (a new village movement distinct from Park Chung-hee’s Saemaul Undong movement of the 1970s) and the Ingamagi Undong (new humanities awareness movement), Song’s book investigates the affect of the Korean financial milieu derived and embedded during the 1950s and 1960s and the economic ecology produced by it. Song examines, in particular, the censure of working Korean women in 1990s as the national birth rate declined and those present discussed this within the framing of “fetishized notions of the working individual” and a society which judges everything by its ability to contribute “productively.” Through her investigation Song uncovers the rejection of hyper-modernity and globalization by women of a post-industrial South Korean society.
Participants also considered in their encounter with Song’s work analysis by Nancy Abelmann, lauding her assertions and desire to reframe and reconfigure Korean Studies using a wider framework of academic methodologies and analytical approaches, such as that of Michel Foucault’s.
Some felt that Song’s work served as a provocation in its intellectual engagement with the field of genealogy and the political economy of post-1997 South Korea. Comments were made with regards to contemporary economic and social affect following the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis. Song noted the take-off in demand for low-skill workers following the Asia debt; it is here, she alleges, a “multicultural Korea” began, noting that no one should be actively seeking to implement a Korean model of development (if such a thing even exists). Additional comments were made about the disproportionate number of female irregular workers; despite the revoking of the family register system (hoju), thus making women nominally autonomous from men, there is a clear bifurcation in the workforce.
Attendees to the event were given plenty of leads for innovative avenues of further ethnographic and social science research.