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To Make a Dream Circle: Searching for Subculture Within the Korean Wave

  • Author(s): Howard, Corey Scott
  • Advisor(s): Hankins, Joseph D
  • Postero, Nancy G
  • et al.
Abstract

“Hallyu,” a term meaning “Korean Wave,” refers to the ever-expanding cache of exportdriven

Korean cultural products that, since the 1990s, has primarily included dramas, pop music,

film, and animation (Yong 2016, 3). As an industry that generated 6 billion USD in 2016

(Korea.net 2019), and that commands roughly 35 million fans worldwide (The Korea Herald

2016), Hallyu has become a formidable economic force that other domestic industries have

found lucrative alliances with (Choi 2015, 37-38). Further, the substantial direct support that

Hallyu has received from the South Korean government since 2008 and that which has led to the

broadening of the Hallyu repertoire to include new forms such as games, food, electronics, and

language (Yong 2016, 5; Choi 2015, 44) makes South Korea and its cultural industry a

compelling case study for observing how cultural forms become naturalized as they converge

with economics and government agendas. This thesis is an investigation into the categories of

“popular culture” and “subculture” as viable sociological frameworks for understanding the

mechanics of how particular cultural forms become privileged while others become neglected.

Utilizing interviews and observations that I collected during my one month stay at a Korean

language university in Seoul, I demonstrate how Hallyu has been able to achieve hegemonic

status as Korea’s granted cultural expression, and how this achievement has occasioned other

Korean cultural industries to align themselves with Hallyu. I also explore the possibilities for

marginalized actors within this hegemonic arrangement to manipulate elements of the dominant

culture in order to meet their own needs.

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