Precariat in South Korea: Approaches to precarity as a plural and generative spatial-socio concept

Type: Virtual Panel
Sponsor Groups: Asian Geography Specialty Group, Political Geography Specialty Group, Economic Geography Specialty Group
Poster #:
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 8:00 AM / 9:15 AM (PDT)
Room: Virtual 45
Organizers: Hyun-Chul Kim, So Hyung Lim
Chairs: So Hyung Lim


Precarity/precariat has drawn growing attention from different subfields of geography in relation to the new (urban) working class, who disproportionately expose themselves to uncertainty in the labour market (Anderson, 2010; Banki, 2013; Ferreri et. al., 2017; Johnson, 2011; McDowell, et al. 2009). Given that subjectivity, agency, and political possibilities of precariat are relationally and geographically constituted (Barnes & Weller, 2020; Butler, 2006; Munk, 2020; Reza, 2020), the panel aims to explore precarity/precariat as a plural and generative spatial-socio concept. This panel brings different experiences of the precariat together from the four empirical research based in South Korea: consumers who occupy 24/7 cafes overnight, infected wanderers in community village in the post-Korean war context, prolonged youths in coworking spaces, and subfertile women in the rapidly aging society.

The selection of cases is made in support of the critique that the skewed attention to Global North in the conceptualization of precarity has overshadowed the complexities of precarity and actual experiences of precariat (Cruz-Del Rosario, T., & Rigg, 2019; Standing, 2011). The panel justifies the focus on South Korean cases further by highlighting the country’s geopolitical positionality. Having survived the Korean War and post-war restoration in the 1950s, followed by compressed industrialization and neoliberal restructuring after the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, South Korea serves as a ‘middle-manager’ of Global South and North (Song, 2011; also see Baik, 2013b). This particular position has been affected by and contributed to a polarized global structure. If we are to consider the ruptured meaning of precarity/precariat, the panel suggests that exploring precarious individuals in the particular context of South Korean society can help us to expand our understanding of precarity/precariat beyond the binary of informal/formal, economic/social change, Global North/South, urban/rural, western/eastern, the developed (post-industrial)/developing(industrial) (See Allison, 2014; Ivana, 2014; Lee, 2019; Lewis et al., 2015; Mikle, 2020; Munck, 2013, 2019, 2020; Scully, 2016; Swider, 2017)

Bearing this in mind, the panel incorporates the cases of different unspoken lives in South Korea into our discussion, answering the following questions:

1) How do we define precarity/precariat/precarious life and apply it to our research in the context of South Korean society over the scope of modernization?
2) What explanations does the concept offer and what are the limitations?
3) How can we take into account the overlooked agency of the precariat?

Through such inquiries, the panel explores how precarity could engender geographies of subjectivity, resistance, negotiation, and creativity. It also seeks a nuanced understanding of precarity from the post-Korean War to present day while revealing that experiences of the precariat are inevitably constituted at the intersection of local and global (Baik, 2013a, 2013b; Chen, 2010; Song & Hae, 2019). By doing so, the panel will contribute to the decolonization of knowledge and knowledge production and the relational approach to precarity/precariat/precariousness.


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Type Details Minutes Start Time
Introduction So Hyung Lim University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee 7 8:00 AM
Panelist Yoonai Han 12 8:07 AM
Panelist Hyun-Chul Kim University of Toronto 12 8:19 AM
Panelist Jean Young Kim University of Texas - Austin 12 8:31 AM
Panelist Jonghee Lee-Caldararo University of Kentucky 12 8:43 AM
Discussant Michelle Buckley University of Toronto 10 8:55 AM
Discussant Daniel Cockayne University of Waterloo 10 9:05 AM

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