Reinventing the Past: A Symbolic Landscape of Hanok Villages and Gentrification in Seoul

Authors: MyungIn Ji*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Political Geography
Keywords: Gentrification, Symbolic Landscape, Historic Preservation, Fantasy, Simulacra, Seoul
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/7/2020
Start / End Time: 11:50 AM / 1:05 PM
Room: Tower Court B, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper unfolds the discourses and practices of Hanok Villages, with a special focus on their complicity in gentrification in Seoul. During the 2000s, the Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) discarded the modernist urban renewal agenda and switched gears to historic preservation. The main target of preservation has been hanoks, which are legally defined as buildings that reflect the “traditional style of Korea.” In 2008, the SMG announced the Hanok Preservation and Promotion Policy of Historical and Cultural City of Seoul, also known as the Hanok Declaration. According to this policy, the previously dilapidated, old neighborhoods were selected as Hanok Villages. With the simulacra of hanoks, those neighborhoods have been materially and discursively reshaped as cultural heritages where a symbolic landscape of the past is reinvented, staged, and consumed. Here, the symbolic landscape mirrors a fantasy of the past which reproduces and reinforces selected nostalgic styles and images. Therefore, the discourses and practices of Hanok Villages naturalize a certain rhythm of the neighborhoods while excluding humans and non-humans who cannot accommodate themselves to the reinvented symbolic landscape. Drawing on archival and ethnographic research, this paper explores one of the Hanok Villages in Seoul, Seochon. Ultimately, I demonstrate the role of symbolic landscape in gentrification dynamics.

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