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Title:Making an exit: Millennials, place-making, and exodus at South Korea’s edge
Author(s):Jordan, Agnes Sohn
Director of Research:Orta, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Orta, Andrew
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Greenberg, Jessica; Lo, Adrienne; Nelson, Laura C
Department / Program:Anthropology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
downward mobility
South Korea
Jeju Island
Abstract:This dissertation is an ethnography of a contemporary ‘exodus’ of downwardly mobile middle-class millennials from Seoul, the political, cultural and economic center of South Korea, to Jeju Island, a semi-rural farming, fishing and tourism island south of the Korean peninsula. I argue that this mass relocation to Jeju constitutes what political theorists call ‘exodus’ – an engaged exit from the ‘rules of the game,’ and a positive remaking of social foundations from the ground up. ‘Exodus’ has been theorized in political philosophy, but there have been few empirical studies that analyze what it looks like on the ground – and the possibilities and limitations its spatial manifestations might afford. In this dissertation, I combine contemporary political theory with an anthropological approach to studying space/place to produce an empirical on-the-ground study of a contemporary movement of exodus in South Korea. Through fourteen months of ethnographic research, I have found that millennials’ contemporary encounters with Jeju Island have opened up the island as a space to build a politically engaged alternative sociality from the ground up. Millennials who move to Jeju redirect their creative labor – formerly tied up in precarious work in small and large companies in Seoul – to design new lives in Jeju that diverge sharply from the normative ideals of middle-class life in South Korea. I contend that in Jeju millennial migrants remake kinship relations, create new forms of subjectivity, carve out new temporalities and narratives, and transform Jeju’s landscape through localized, material, and embodied engagement with the space/place of Jeju. Furthermore, this study also incorporates the perspectives of other players on the island – longtime Jeju residents, and the Jeju regional government – and in so doing charts the tensions and limitations that a politics of exodus affords. In this dissertation, I contend that in making this unprecedented reverse movement from the city to the country, downwardly mobile middle-class millennials are not just relocating geographically, but they are acting in politically salient ways. They are not just leaving Seoul, but making an exit from dense classed social networks, powerful Korean conglomerates, neoliberal labor regimes, and a national legacy of state-led, future-oriented development in Korea. That the intensely neoliberal, competitive, and class-stratified environment of contemporary Seoul has provoked such a dramatic and sudden relocation of the younger generation makes this research in Korea a timely case study, as with tightening global competition and expansion of neoliberal policies around the world, this phenomenon is likely to unfold among younger generations in other locales.
Issue Date:2019-07-12
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 Agnes Sohn Jordan
Date Available in IDEALS:2019-11-26
Date Deposited:2019-08

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