Becoming (In)Authentic: The Role of Aesthetic Placemaking in Gentrification

Authors: MyungIn Ji*, University of Kentucky
Topics: Urban Geography, Cultural Geography, Asia
Keywords: Gentrification, Aesthetics, Authenticity, Pacemaking, Seoul
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM
Room: Virtual 32
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Previous research on Seoul’s gentrification has overtly emphasized the role of the developmental state and property speculation in urban clearance and renewal. However, little attention has been paid to the contemporary commercial gentrification that has different aesthetics, subjectivities, and rhythms compared to residential gentrification. In commercial gentrification, old urban neighborhoods are no longer demolished but cherished with their authentic landscapes and atmospheres. As new playgrounds for hipster, foodie, urban adventurers, those previously dilapidated neighborhoods are selectively preserved and aesthetically reinvented with trendy restaurants, cafés, and bars serving the fantasy of authenticity. Combining ethnographic and archival research, this paper explores the role of aesthetic placemaking in Seoul’s commercial gentrification. Specifically, I highlight how the aesthetic desire for authenticity creates the heterogeneous places and ambivalent subjects of gentrification while unsettling the spatio-temporal rhythms of displacement. In doing so, I demonstrate the psychic and physical processes of becoming (in)authentic where the borders of authentic/inauthentic and gentrifier/gentrified continue to be disassembled and reassembled. Consequently, this paper contributes to urban and cultural geographies by providing a more nuanced analysis of Seoul’s gentrification, which has been predominantly identified with state-led, residential urban renewal.

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