Note: This is a student project from a course affiliated with the Ethnography of the University Initiative. EUI supports faculty development of courses in which students conduct original research on their university, and encourages students to think about colleges and universities in relation to their communities and within larger national and global contexts.

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Title:Shifting Identities: Fashion Choices as Social Capital for Korean Women in the United States
Author(s):Grim-Feinberg, Kate
Advisor(s):Kim, Kyung Sook; Lemus, Sergio
Subject(s):transnational migration
ANTH499 S08
social capital
South Korean university students
Abstract:We began this project by asking how female Korean students' fashion at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) reflects both macro and everyday discourses of individual self-development, which have intensified with the neoliberalization of both Korean and U.S. universities. We sought to explore how students attribute meaning to their fashion choices within particular social and political contexts. We looked at these issues through four interviews with female Korean students, observations of students on campus, and analysis of local clothing advertisements and a Korean television drama. We consider this research to be preliminary. Rather than revealing definitive answers, our data has led us to suggest possibilities for future research by highlighting the complex nature of how structural social categories influence individual choice for Korean students at UIUC. We found that knowing how to switch between different fashion styles that are identified with particular groups of people in different contexts is an important form of social capital. The students we interviewed are clearly aware of how their fashion choices influence the way others perceive them. The ability to accentuate different aspects of their identities through fashion choices appears to be a form of social capital that allows Korean women to study, work, and live in transnational spaces.
Issue Date:2008
Course / Semester:Anth 499, East Asian Youth and Global Futures, Prof. Nancy Abelmann and Prof. Karen Kelsky: East Asian youth have experienced perhaps the world’s most compressed development as well as the world’s most aggressive globalization policies. This course examines how youth in East Asia (China/s, Japan, and the Koreas) are making their way in our globalizing world, focusing in particular on the transformations in work, education, recreation, gender, and sexuality brought about by neoliberal economic restructuring in the region. Topics studied include the insecure job market for young people, consumerism, globalized pop culture phenomena such as Pokemon, the Korean wave, and Internet gaming, emergent LGBT communities, etc. Students are encouraged to focus their research projects on aspects of the U. of I. student life that reflect the experiences of East Asian youth in a global market. The U of I offers a fascinating window on East Asian youth because of the many college (and pre-college) students who make their way here – as well as the movement of “Amercian” youth to East Asia. Through participation in the Ethnography of the University Initiative (EUI), students will conduct local field research that reveals the global processes at issue. The course syllabus is available at:
Publication Status:unpublished
Date Available in IDEALS:2008-06-05

This item appears in the following Collection(s)

  • Globalization and the University
    This collection examines the influence of globalization on the university and the university's place in a burgeoning world market for higher education.
  • Diversity on Campus/Equity and Access
    This collection examines ways in which the U.S. university and the American college experience are affected by diversity, and difference. In particular, these student projects examine experiences of diversity on campus, including important contemporary social, cultural, and political debates on equity and access to university resources.

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