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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Becoming Like the World: Korean Articulations of Globalization in the Global Zones, 1987-present

  • Author(s): Yun, Jieheerah
  • Advisor(s): AlSayyad, Nezar
  • et al.

After democratization and the successful hosting of the 1988 Olympic Games, various South Korean political actors, including the government, have criticized the reckless urban redevelopment projects under past regimes. The public clamour about the need to address the failings of developmentalist regimes has triggered the emergence of a new urban discourse that emphasizes considering non-economic aspects of development, such as environmental justice and broader citizen participation. In particular, the government has embarked on remaking South Korean landscapes in a series of urban renaissance projects through a deployment of "culture," or what I call the cultural city discourse.

This dissertation examines the processes by which architectural aesthetics and spatial practices in Global Cultural Zones in Seoul rearticulate "Korean cultures" as well as those of "others." Using the methods of urban history, critical theory, and geographical inquiry, this study examines how economic liberalization and the transnational movement of people have shaped changing urban discourses surrounding development projects. Each chapter analyzes a different urban redevelopment project in a Global Cultural Zone; these represent the city government's efforts to promote an understanding of "Korean cultures" and the concept of a "multicultural society." First, by examining the cases of remodeled hanoks in Bukchon, this study challenges the assumption that vernacular architecture represents the opposite of high architecture. Instead, it highlights the ambiguous status of the former. Then, I look at the construction of "Korean cultures" in Insadong, which takes the form of nostalgia-fueled resistance to change that can be detrimental to cultural diversity. At the same time, I examine how the government's effort to build a "multicultural society" functions as a political ideology that aims to ease the tension arising from participating in the global economy. This study then turns to the construction of the Design Plaza and Park in Dongdaemun and questions the thesis that design-oriented spaces bring further economic growth, let alone producing "cultural space." Lastly, the construction of "multicultural streets" in Itaewon is examined to show that the emergence of ethnic and cultural diversity in Itaewon is the result of coincidental historical events rather than consistent government policy.

This research shows that the emphasis on Korean "traditional culture" is not a simple reflection of a desire to re-enact past customs but a project with an objective of reconfirming the modernity of the present. By examining the interlocking relationship between the state and civil society, this study illustrates the dialectical processes of globalization. This dissertation suggests that diversification of the rationales behind urban projects--the simultaneous emphasis on "Korean tradition" and a "multicultural society"--serves as a tool for the continuation of a growth-centered economic framework.

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