BRIEF ABSTRACT (99 words)
Korea is rapidly changing the nature of its social capital from that constituted by jaebol-oriented procedural specialists to start-up-focussed creative talents who intend to harness the innovative and creative dynamicism of a newly emerging creative economy. This article considers the Korean paepi as the center of an ethnographic consideration of how this representative group of outsiders that have voted with not just their proverbial feet, but with their entire sartorial bodies as they forge a new path to fast social capital partially using the infrastructure of fast fashion production that has organically evolved in central Seoul.
LONG ABSTRACT (478 words)
Korea is rapidly changing the nature of its social capital from that constituted by jaebol-oriented procedural specialists to start-up-focussed creative talents who intend to harness the innovative and creative dynamicism of a newly emerging creative economy. This article places the Korean paepi (a Korean portmanteau word from the transliteration of the English words “fashion” and “people” to yield pae + pi) at the center of an ethnographic consideration of how this representative group of outsiders mark a significant social shift as the nearly inevitable result of demographic changes in Korean society, as well as the cultural product of Seoul’s highly developed textile industry infrastructure. The paepi also exist because of the Internet and the social networks that have allowed the creation of a vibrant sartorial community that is literally changing the visible face of Korean society. A close consideration of the paepi is both relevant and important in understanding a new, important way that social capital is being defined in one representative segment of Korean society, as youth especially have voted with not just their proverbial feet, but with their entire sartorial bodies to form a new path to fast social capital partially using the infrastructure of fast fashion production that has organically evolved in places such as the Dongdaemun private branded hive (PBH) complex in central Seoul. The paepi utilise social network services on the Internet tobuild new hierarchies, standards, and norms of social capital that go outside of the hitherto traditional route of intense study, admission to as prestigious a university as possible, lifetime employment in a large company, and marriage to a spouse of similar social standing. The paepi are largely composed of youth in their late teens and early twenties who evaluate their success in their community in terms of Facebook’s ability to reify social capital success through Facebook fashion group popularity-as-Likes alongside raw numbers of Instagram followers. In keeping with the call for interdisciplinarity in social research articulated by Rowley (2014), this article employs ethnographic methods to discern the means and norms through which members of the greater, networked paepi community define and rank group membership in what has truly become the most organically and independently creative sector of a society presently occupied with a new state goal of fostering a ‘creative economy’, even as the state has been unable to dismantle the institutional and cultural infrastructure that has largely acted to stifle the very kind of creativity society now assigns great value. Interestingly, the extreme success of the paepi who define their sector of the fashion field in drawing international attention to the Korean fashion industry has begun to ruffle the feathers of the Korean fashion industry establishment, which has been struggling with the very same institutional culture barriers that have hindered other Korean organisational structures’ attempts to institutionally foster creativity, even with government mandates to do so.
Keywords: Paepi, Korean fashion and textile industry, creative economy, Facebook, private branded hive (PBH), Dongdaemun, social capital, field theory
THE SEOUL-TOKYO FAST FASHION CONNECTION AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE KOREAN PAEPI
The Korean textile/fashion industry has played a much larger role in the development of Asian fashion than many know. When talking about Korean fashion, it is easy to see what's apaprent, what you see. Some might mark a point, perhaps 2006, 2009, 2012, when Korean street fashions were perhaps worth looking at. Some liketo only look at the high fashion sector, at the designers and their fashion designer associations, or focus solely on Korea's premier fashion event, Seoul Fashion Week. However, these ways of looking at things only focus on the easily visible, the parts of fashion that are easy for the eye to see, the parts that even the neophyte can easily observe.
There two main points to consider here, by way of infrastructure and backgrounding the cultural evolution of the Korean paepi:
The importance of pronto moda fashion technology and infrastructure in the 1990s as a result of Korea's close relationship with the growth of Japanese street fashion as the crucial aspect of Korea's textile industry that would allow the development of an environment in which the paepi would flourish cannot be underemphasized. That the QR (quick response) technologies of the uniquely Korean PBHs (private-branded hives) housed in Dongdaemun actually enabled the production of the diverse and unusual styles, accessories, and accoutrements worn and used by the street fashion-leading kogal of Tokyo in the 1990s. In short, the researchshows that there would have been no Japanese street fashion movement -- no Shibuya and Harajuku in the way we know them today -- without Dongdaemun, its silent economic partner. And even today, the growth of the PBH's (from Migliore to Doota to APM) predominance in Korea's fashion economy would not have happened without Tokyo street fashion and the Japanese market as its major client. It's a two-way street, so Korea's DDM and the PBH evolved in an environment that required (and shaped) its evolution; here would be no growth in Korean street fashion in the way we see it today on the streets of Seoul without the QR-cycle-battle-hardened, fast fashion market sharpened, fickle fashion cycle honed PBH style of production in Dongdaemun. You don't get the ludicrously cheap prices and buffet-like extreme variety of fashion choices (often illegal knockoffs of looks taken directly from picture on ther Internet) that enables young Korean women to look exactly like and wear the clothing Sienna Miller was wearing in a picture of her within 48 of its being updloaded and disseminated across the world without the accelerated QR/pronto moda/fast fashion technology of the DDM PBH complex and places like it. And you don't get the latter without the 1990s Japanese street fashion market driving and sharpening it. (Kim and Kincade, 2009)
It is also crucial to understand and consider the demographic/societal changes that affect how the paepi are and how they came to be as agents of street fashion culture today. As in most things development related, the Japanese either experienced it first or set it into motion before Korea, but in a very similar way, given the demographic similarities and direct developmental connections between the two countries. Kawamura points out that in the Japanese case in the 1990s, an economic recession had destroyed not only old ways of thinking, but forced a shift to lower prices and a move away from the older way of branded items and outlets. This, along with the beginning of a sharp population decline, changed the way teens saw their futures. In combination with the prospect of probable unemployment even with a college degree, not to mention relative decrease in competition for spots in universities, create the social possibility for exploring life paths and identities outside of the study-college-job-marriage matrix for young girls. Hence, the environmental conditions for the eventual evolution of the kogal. (Kawamura, 2006)
In short, the existence of the paepi and the Dongdaemun fast fashion complex are inextricably linked, made possible by an 8-cylinder, turbocharged, fast fashion super-engine housed in the middle of the capitol city, the center of commerce and culture for South Korea. Even as South Korean society has evolved into the government's always shifting ideational plans for an segyehwa (globalization) and an "idea economy" based primarily on consumption as nearly a patriotic duty, the place of youth in a new economic order dictaated by high youth unemployment, one oft the lowest birth rates in the world, and a rapidly aging population, old promises and new forms of subjectivity themselves have changed the way youth exist in Korean society. This is a relationship and a phenomenon I plan to explore with both visual and sociological data in an extended form, based on extensive ethnographic research.
I initially conducted 7 structured, formal interviews in my office on the Hongik University campus, which was a process facilitated partially from my reputation and good personal rapport with several paepi after having photographed them and developed a working relationship with them, along with the reputation of Hongik University as the premiere arts university in the country, in which I was then teaching a course called "Understanding the Art of Photography." This set of interviews was both foregroundded and followed up by countless planned meetings, chance encounters, and photo shoots with paepi on the streets and also repeatedly at the recurring fashion event Seoul Fashion Week (hereafter, "SFW"). It in this capacity that I can describe my interaction with my many informants as "participant observation," although this relationship was never formally defined as such until recently, shortly before the writing of this article began.
The reason I chose the paepi for the present anlysis is quite simple. The paepi is the clearest and most obvious case study tool with which to explore the question that is the concern of this special edition, that of "The Role of Human Capital in Societal Progress in Asia." In choosing to explore this topic, I elected to redefine the new social imperative and paradigm of Progress laid down in South Korea by the Pak Geun-hye administration in its effort to prioritize the fostering of human capital in line with the new state goal of building a "creative economy," which has become the new buzzword of the day.
Methodologically speaking, what might be unusual about this analysis is how it brings together ethnomethodology, semiotics, and a bit of film theory into an integrated visual sociological analysis in order to establish individual actors' motivations within a larger theoretical framework grounded in Bourdieu's field theory approach to understanding social interaction. In this way, a multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach offers a unique and powerfully integrated approach to explaining a new form that so-called Creativity has taken in South Korea.
The Problem with Social Capital in Organizational Analysis
I'll begin the bulk of the analysis by defining a problem with the way Bourdieu and his idea of cultural capital is generally employed in management theory, business, and organizational analysis, beginning with a block quote From researchers Mustafa Emirbayer and Victoria Johnson's article "Bourdieu and Organizational Analysis" to get the ball rolling.
Despite some promising steps in the right direction, organizational analysis has yet to exploit fully the theoretical and empirical possibilities inherent in a relational perspective upon the social world. In particular, it has yet to explore in systematic fashion implications for organizational studies of the writings of the airport though, perhaps the most important of all recent contributors to the project of a relational sociology. Bourdieu has had virtually no impact on organizational analysis, perhaps in large part because, despite extended analyses of organizations... To be sure, certain concepts associated with this thought, such as field and capital, two of the cornerstones of his sociology, already widely known in the organizational literature. However, the specific ways in which these terms are being used provide ample evidence that the full significance of his relational mode of thought has yet to be apprehended. Moreover, the almost total inattention to habitus, the third of Bourdieu's major concepts, without which the concepts of field and capital (at least as he deployed them) make no sense, further attests to the misappropriation of his ideas and to the lack of appreciation of the potential usefulness. (Emirbayer et al, 1-2)
Harvard sociologist's frank followup to Emirbayer and Johnson's shot across the proverbial bow of the an organizational analysis field engaged in the misappropriation of Bourdieu's theoretical framework simply must be read directly as the touchstone and beginning point for my own analytical additions.
The relational theorist Mustafa Emirbayer and the organizational scholar Victoria Johnson have thrown down the gauntlet to American organizational researchers, arguing that as a field we have not taken Bourdieu’s insights about the world of organizations to heart and that our theory and research are impoverished as a result. Their central argument is that while components of Bourdieu’s ideas have been picked up here and there, Bourdieu’s great power comes from its integration of the theory of the individual (habitus), the theory of social structure (the field), and a theory of power relations (the various forms of capital). The whole of this theory is more than the sum of its parts and so the potential of the theory has not been realized in American practice even if some of the parts have been embraced. Moreover, we have not explored the power of the theory as an approach to understanding a single organization, from the perspective of field, capital, and habitus. Where Bourdieu’s insights have been picked up, they have been considered at the interorganizational, not intraorganizational, level. (Dobbin, 1)
The "Extended Self"
First we should begin with a discussion of Russell W. Belk's notion of the "extended self." He begins his article on "Possessions and the Extended Self" by saying that
"We cannot hope to understand consumer behavior without first giving some understanding of the meaning that consumers attach to possessions. The key to understanding what possessions mean is recognizing that, knowingly or unknowingly, intentionally or unintentionally, we regard our possessions as part of ourselves. As Tuan argues, "our fragile sense of self needs support, and this we get by having and possessing things because, to a large degree, we are what we have and possess (1980, p.472)" (Belk, 139)
Basically, what Belk is saying is that in consumer societies, our objects that we possess become actual extensions of ourselves, which is why we feel so devastated after a fire destroys our home and worldly possessions, or why theft often so viscerally feels like such a invasion and attack, like a violation. Indeed, Belk goes on to say that "Sartre maintains that the only reason we want to have something is to enlarge our sense of self and that the only way we can know who we are is by observing what we have." In this way, if one thinks upon the growth of American consumer culture and Conspicuous consumption in the 1950s, it makes sense that the automobile became a major mode of defining the extended self in United States culture for men, in the same way that fashion consumption came to play a much larger role In the way that women to find themselves in the processes of expanding concerns of fashion down from the rarefied air of the elite into the mainstream for many American women. Belk makes interesting note of how
"...mourning for dead loved ones also may be interpreted as grieving for loss of self. The prior possessions of the deceased can be powerful remains of the dead person's extended self. These remains are often the focus of normal and pathological morning. (Volkan 1984)" (Belk, 144)
It did not take much effort to update his update his own theory to keep up with important changes in media and self-mediation, as encapsulated in His article "Extended Self in a Digital World."
25 years ago, when Belk (1988) presented the concept of the extended self, theere were already personal computers. But there were no webpages, online games, search engines, virtual worlds, social media, Internet, e-mail, smart phones, MP-3 players, or digital cameras. Today, with these and other digital technologies, the possibilities for self-extension have never been so extensive. There is nothing deterministic about the effects of technological change, and current digital technologies are merely the latest in a human technological history that began in Paleolithic times. Nevertheless, it is evident that the current wave of digital technologies is fundamentally changing consumer behavior in ways that have significant implications for the formulation of the extended self. It is time for an update. This is not meant as a challenge to or repudiation of the extended self, which remains more vital than ever in the digital world. Rather, it is meant to consider what is similar, different, and in need of change, that is, an update.
It is at this point that we come to the face. Before we move to the inevitable issue of Facebook,i want to foregroundsuch a discussion with the fact of a hypermodern South Korea that grew to adulthood within the pressure cooker of the Cold War, a culture of unfettered and unapologetic capitalism, and what many scholars refer to as the "compressed development" that formed a society that endured the development pangs of other industrial capitalist societies that often took more than a century or two, but which South Korea barreled through in a span of time not evenhalf as long, often within the single lifetime of a some octogenarian who have lived through it all.
For South Koreans, the massive changes that came with the advent of the Internet and Internet-enabled, so-called "social media" is not so fundamentally different then the changes brought about by having access to clean running water, private automobile ownership, hot water From the tap, and high-speed bullet trains, in progressive order of decades after the Korean War. By the time the 1990s came to pass, the advent of the personal computer wasn't such a shock to Korean sensibilities, in the same way that a population that hadn't even known email in the middle of that decade boasted of high-speed broadband Internet access in nearly every home by the beginning of the new millennium. So the fact that the first decade of the 2000s brought with it YouTube, smart phones, Facebook, and other means of extending the self is not something that came as a great, fundamentally jarring, nor existential surprise to many South Koreans.
Before moving on from the concept of the extended self in general to a consideration of what this means for the Korean paepi, we should first move to a consideration of how the Korean concept of chemyeon -- the social "face" -- is culturally situated within contemporary Korean culture. To do this, to attempt to measure the social value of the face in Korean society, requires the employment of heavy theoretical tools borrowed from one of sociology's greatest recent thinkers, namely Pierre Bourdieau. Generally, Bourdieau's explication of social capital is most useful here, despite the fact that it tends to be employed without much consideration to one of its most potentially powerful points of theoretical sharpness, that of the embodied cultural capital and habitus, and the crucially linked idea of field theory. (reference) We will return to the concept of chemyeon after sufficiently reviewing the basics of field theory so as to remind ourselves of its crucial importance to the concept of cultural capital.
TAKING FIELD THEORY LITERALLY
In the bigger picture, this part of the article is both a response to and enhancement of ideas put forth by John Levi Martin (Martin).
What Martin is talking about is an extended metaphor taken from the physical sciences for use in social science, simply stated. And it has great utility as an explanatory metaphor, especially when explaining many far-ranging and diffuse social phenomenae.
Often, people seem to treat social phenomenae as something discreet and definable, akin to something "real" that one can pick up and touch with one's hands. However, the problem here is defining something that is inherently difficult to see, which is the defining characteristic of most social phenomenae -- you can't see the ism itself, but only its effects. Sure, sexism and racism, like gravity, all exist; but you can't see those things themselves. Like Isaac Newton in the apocryphal story connected to his name, he didn't “see” gravity, as indeed no one can or ever has, but could clearly see its effects in the apples falling from the tree. If one goes up into a tower and drops an apple, a rock, and a feather at the same time, we know that they're going to be pulled down, as all mass is inside a gravitational field. Einstein complexified this difficult question by stating that gravity is not a force transferred by some medium or particle across empty space. And that was the essential problem. What is the medium of transference of energy within a field? Is there some movement of a magical ether or some other mysterious thing that we can't see? No, says Einstein. Gravity is the warping of space-time around any object possessed of mass. And that leads us to the major aspects of field theory that will define the theory for us and explain it.
Within a field, there are 5 rules or conditions to think about objects that fall within its influence. The field, in both the physical sciences and social sciences senses:
1. Causes "changes in the state of some elements but involves no appeal to changes in states of other elements."
2. “Changes in state involving interaction between the field and the existing states of the elements" and
3. "The elements have particular attributes that make them susceptible to the field effect.”
4. “The field without the elements is only a potential for the creation of force."
5. The field itself is not directly measurable; its existence can only be proved by its effects.” (CITATION)
In the end, according to Martin, “Field theory, then, has several generic characteristics no matter what the domain of application." And that is key to our purposes here, as social scientists trying to explain phenomenae in social fields. (CITATION)
So, moving from the ideas of gravitational or electromagnetic fields in physical science, let's postulate that the social field defined by its effects on agents within it is one that is shot through with the “global fetish”, an aspiration to a vaguely-defined “global” that is shared by all agents within the field and indeed has come to partially define the legitimacy of the field itself. We should also not forget the way that Bourdieau imagined the field in his employment of field theory, as the arena of struggle for primacy within it, with cultural capital as the deciding factor of success.
For the sake of ease of discussion, let us try to compress the lengthy idea of an intertwined and cross-permeated field of fashion in Korea that is shot through with global aspirational desire -- with a certain globality -- parallel to the way that the related forces of electricity and magnetism have come to be expressed as electromagnetism. The resulting field generated within and defined by agents in the Korean aspirationally global fashion complex (KAGFaC) affects agents as diverse as Korean high fashion designers, the fashion design associations they constitute, overseas and domestic fashion buyers, international and local press outlets, and the paepi that are a major point of concern of this paper in a variety of different ways. The field -- and its global charge -- affects the nature and behaviour of the agents, which then interact with one another in terms of their altered characteristics and resultant different self-interests.
Before moving on from a review of theory to a discussion of the paepi and the field of fashion they enter, it is necessary to take a brief aside to mention a South Korean societal phenomenon that charges the field of fashion with a specific and peculiar valence.
THE “GLOBAL FETISH”
It is useful to characterize the way in which the commercialization and commodification of Korean culture and the desire to promote and export it outside of Korea’s borders fits in terms ofHyunjung Lee's notion of a “global fetish”, in which she points out how the notion of the “global” in South Korea having become so highy prioritized that it has become its own rationale, one capable of explainingjust about anything, or alternatively put, has become a rationalizing framework able to give meaning and worthiness to just about anything put into it, to the extent that the object promotes Korea or Korean culture in the global realm, or functionsto “globalize” South Korea.
THE KOREAN ASPIRATIONAL GLOBAL FASHION COMPLEX
It is useful to begin an explication of what I will call the "KAGFaC" field with Seoul Fashion Week (SFW), the industry event that brings all major players in the field together in a highly organised and controlled way, with the goal of gathering the global gaze as a given. At SFW, Korean high fashion designers do what they know how to do, which is to stage fashion shows (often through the industry event known as Seoul Fashion Week, which is partially supported by the city and national governments) and hope to garner international attention via the global gaze of overseas press and, to a lesser extent, overseas buyers. However, the main function of buyers within the commercial fashion field is to possess as many commercially viable items as possible to offer for resale in the stores and showrooms of the venues they represent. Since the obvious goal of high fashion designers is to sell clothes, mainly to buyers, designing runway shows to appeal to them while making the clothing easy to photograph for members of the media and commercial catalogues, the entire structure of the fashion show has shifted from that of a small, intimate affair designed to show clothes to a small, powerful elite gathered in a small room to one designed to have clothes paraded before a large, professional photo corps positioned at the end of a long runway, with the intention of having each piece of clothing shared as widely as possible in magazines, TV programs, and other forms of media. To this end, both still photographers and videographers not only expect, but demand to be placed as close to centre runway position at the far end of the long runway, with general “house,” then designer “house” official photographers getting first priority for shooting placement before the beginning of each show, followed by photographers with official press passes from other outlets on a first-come, first-serve basis. The photo press clustered together at the end of the runway are the main focus of the show, since their role in getting the designer’s end product — the clothing — out to the world in a concrete way — through their photographs and recordings — is crucial to making sure the event has any impact at all outside of the halls of the venue, which has now become permanent and official, the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), housed in the fashion/textile districtof Dongdaemun, the traditional garment district that has been officialised by the Seoul city government as the center of fashion in Seoul, and hence, the entire nation. Fashion writers and other members of the non-photographic press are seated, along with buyers and VIPs, along the side of the runway so as to facilitate being able to see all details of the garments on the runway, from types of stitches and materials to cuts and how the garment flows and falls upon the models’ bodies. Both photo and non-photo press are categorised into overseas and domestic categories, with the overseas press beng given higher priority by being seated or allowed entry before the domestic press, since Seoul Fashion Week, supported as it is by funds from the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, has prioritised the elevation of SFW into greater global prominence and gives special care to facilitate the jobs of members of the overseas press, even to the detriment of the functioning of the local press that is actually more responsible for documenting and promoting the work of the designers in question. VIPs such as famous pop stars and actors are crucial to adding to the social capital of designers who can successfully invite them to their shows, even as glitterati attendees benefit from the glamorous boost to their respective images in being photographed in a front row fashion show seat. It is worth noting that only SFW
[Integrate London fashion Week reference here.]
Superstructure – The Image Society
Towards embodied cultural capital
One of the most popular discussions of the Korean face that occurs regularly within Western media, generally revolve around the issue of plastic surgery, both in terms of the size of the industry and the cultural symbolism belied by its popularity in Korean society. One of the best discussions of these discourses is the overview provided by Holliday and Elvfing-Hwang, (Holliday et al, 76) differentiates between domestic Korean version of the eoljjang ("best face) that would include a definition of a colonialist aesthetic mindset in terms of the desire to alter the face along the lines of media influenced notions of beauty and a desire to alter the face out of reasons related to the Korean notion of gwansang susul, which can be roughly translated as physiognomic surgery, which is motivated not as much by Western notions of beauty but by Korean cultural ideas of ideal facial features based on older, Korean, neo-Confucian norms.(Holliday et al, 70) Here, the idea that the traditional notion of women's place in society is one of being possessed of the "subjectless bodies" that must be placed into the service of literally reproducing and propogating the state in the biological sense is crucial to understand here, which is one reason it the choice to invest in improvement of that body by converting fiscal capital into embodied cultural capital can be seen as a completely rational one. Although Holliday and Elving-Hwang point out that only seeing women as the subjects of the desire to consume and invest in the self doesn't see the problem of consumption for the trees, since men are also under social pressure to invest in the same plastic surgery to increase embodied capital, for the purposes of the present paper, I would suffice it to say that the traditional Confucian emphasis on the bodies of women as biological vessel and as a subject whose value comes from the body is the most salient point in any effort to understand why women in particular are collectively pressure to obssess over appearance in general and the FACE more specifically. (Holliday, et al, 75-76)
The Ultimate Form of Embodied Cultural Capital
Bordieau explicated three forms of the cultural capital that is employed in the service of maximizing a social actor's success in a given field: embodied/incorporated, objectified, and institutionalized. Embodied/incorporated cultural capital is the least obvious to the casual thinker and observer and it includes aspects of the person related to ways of thinking and behavior that gives advantage or disadvantage in the social field, and is something that Bordieau also called habitus. (Bordieau, The Forms of Capital) In short, embodied or incorporated cultural capital include aspects of the person that don't seem obviously acquired but rather are seen as essential aspects of who the person is, which is why habits learned from having been subject to certain kinds of education and socialization can become assets in achieving success in given social fields, as opposed to an objectified form of cultural capital that can be found in the purchase of a shiny, red sports car, or the institutionalized cultural capital that might come from the acquisition of a certain kind of academic pedigree. Although Bordieau did not explicitly conceive of embodied/incorporated cultural capital as being part of the body in a literal sense, it is difficult to ignore the fact that the body, understood as a natural part of the social actor herself and subject to social judgments in a social field possessed of such priorities, cannot be left out of this subset of cultural capital that is actually quite corporeal, especially when considering the etymology of the term in either the original French or English. (complete this idea later)
In examining the social phenomenon of plastic surgery in South Korea, it is important to see past the predominant Western bias of interpreting the desire to alter one's appearance solely in terms of the influence of neocolonialism or Western racial and aesthetic hegemony. One also has to consider the fact that the notion of the facein Korean culture is a bit different send in many of the western cultures that negatively evaluate individual social actors' attempts to change the public face of who they are. Given the fact of how important physiognomy is in the neo-Confucian origins of Korean culture as well as the commonly held beliefs about both facial characteristics and appearance in Korean culture, combined with the fact that this is the basis of a significant amount of social pressure and defined very high stakes for access to societal resources, it should come as no surprise that appearance, especially in the form that the face takes, constitutes a significant part of one's social capital. And considering the fact that plastic surgery procedures have advanced enough such that physiognomic and other feeling typical traits can now be amplified and improved as a direct function of access to economic resources (Taeyeon Kim), it defines a new way of converting economic capital into embodied form, although the value here lies in obscuring this conversion.
And in a society that has become technologically and socially accustomed to freely changing and customizing manifestations of the extended self, the signifier, it should come as no surprise to see the development of a desire to change properties of the signified, The original object itself, namely one's actual, biological face. Given the fact that every actor in social fields is, according to Bordieau, caught up in a struggle to maximize one's social capital in order to Best be able to maximize one's ability to play the game as it is defined in any given social field, the maximization of one's social capital via plastic surgery or any other form of body modification cannot be called anything other then a rational choice.
But lest this analysis get ahead of itself, we should first take a closer look at the technological and cultural context in which a peculiarly Korean social obsession with the face came into being. One cannot really understand either phenomenon of plastic surgery in Korea or the related idea of of how incorporated social capital can be converted into objectified social capital via the clinician's knife without understanding other technologically and aesthetically-routed to cultural practices around the face, namely in terms of the concept of eol-jjang.
THE SOCIETY OF THE SPECTACLE
EOL-JJANG AS FAST SOCIAL CAPITAL
The paepi understand Dubord's notion of a society built around the superficiality of the visible and understood in semiotic argumentation as a matter of course. And they do so partiaally because of the a media environment from which they derive their habitus and even their basic understanding of self.
A culture centered around the Korean portmanteau word eol-jjang, which is a mashing together of the Korean word eolgul (face) and the Korean slang word for "best" (jjang). Mostly with the use of small digital cameras, young Korean women became more than adept at using them at flattering 45° camera angles and wide lens lengths to create quite attractive portraits that were often considered strikingly, even surprisingly and unbelievably, different from the original subject. Eol-jjang was more than just a term that denoted a particular genre of picture, but soon evolved into a social activity unto itself on the normal, HTML-enabled web. Users would register for an account and submit their best eol-jjang shots to be viewed and ranked by other users. They were myriad cases of such face kings and queens becoming Internet famous and even actually famous in the realm of real life. While The medium of exchange has inevitably changed from top down controlled websites with multiple user accounts to Facebook Groups and Pages, both the concept and the term have endured, with the photographic form and social interaction having both remained the same, in addition to the fact that it is a fast way to gain social recognition and hence, social capital. Nowadays, in the age of countable "LIKEs" on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter, the instant recognition in the Hegelian sense mixes with recognition in the literal sense of celebrity, making for a potent cocktail for fast social capital within the ultimate, virtual "imagined community" (Chua, 2006)
Fig. 2 -- Paepi.
THE Primacy of the Signifier
In terms of where Korean society has led us, the face, as Baudrillard Might tell us, has been complexified in the new digital world, in which the signified — one's real face — is just a reality-based footnote to its virtual representation — The signifier, the digital picture. Indeed, in a society in which even employment pictures on resumes are expected to be Photoshop, artifice is no longer seen as deception, but merely the polite embellishment society expects that is akin to putting on make up before a big date on the morning of the visa job interview. It is expected, normalized, and destigmatized. And to the extent that this kind of social pressure may be placed disproportionally upon women, more women may get plastic surgery that men, but is no longer only gendered practice for women only in the same way that many men nowadays apply make up in Korean society. Facebook is the sum of these technologies and the very embodiment of the extended self, as technologically significant as all prior technological innovations before it combined, which are also its constituent parts. Still, it is important to note, along the lines of Marshall McLuhan's writings on the subject, that despite the fact that Facebook is the ultimate expression of the Dishley extended self in the very obvious way and that Facebook is the sum of all the technological advances that made it possible, but it also much more than the sum of its media parts. Importantly, Facebook has to find itself as not only a new medium of social interaction, but a medium of mass communication as well. More than television or any other form that has come since the advent of that miraculous invention that changed for old, it is Facebook That is the ultimate herald of the oft-quoted McLuhan, as he told us that "the medium is the message." Indeed, that particular medium has changed the way we conceive of ourselves and the way we interact with one another in the space of a surprisingly short time. Now that the meme of using so-called "social media" as Major forms of social interaction that perceived to be "real", the question of how this innovation has successfully blurred the distinction between the real and represented while begging Baudrillard's questioning of whether that even matters anymore. His famous, misattributed quote is informative here:
“The simulacrum is never that which conceals the truth—it is the truth which conceals that there is none.
The simulacrum is true.”
This is the world and media environment into which the paepi were conceived and in which they naturally function, as citizen–consumers and members of communities both physical and virtual, analog and digital, flesh and data, online and off. The important point here is that the distinction between these dichotomies is as semantically irrelevant and Esoteric as the distinction between signifier and signified when discussing who is the more "real", the picture of the person or the person being pictured? Of course, this is an intellectually interesting exercise and a point of distinction to academics perhaps, but in the real world, this has become a meaningless distinction that defines the nature of the habitus that undergirds the social capital of people in this generation and particular social group.
The Photographic Practices and Visual Habitus of Korean Youth
I begin here with a typology presented in loose chronological order to offer an overview of the breadth of photographic practices that define the technical and aesthetic repertoire of the paepi generation.
In the late 1990s and early years of the milennium,
The Sticker Picture
The "sticker picture" is a fixture in the photographic development of Korean youth who now find themselves in their twenties, especially for young women. Beginning with the importation and popularity of large sticker picture booths from Japan after their invention and rise in popularity in 1995. (Terashita et al, 87) Called purikura (for the Japanese pronunciation of purinto kurabu or "print club")(Simonitch), this photographic practice is as purely Japanese as it is linked to subculture and fashion cultures in Japan (Groom, 194). The photographic practice is still alive and well in Japan, as well as the many countries in Asia, including Korea, where "sticker picture" booths and their offspring are still ubiquitous fixtures of many public venues of consumptive socialization. The influence of sticker picture practices can still be seen in the many smartphone apps of today that allow users to add cute symbols, frames, and designs to their pictures before they are shared on social media networks.
The "Image Picture"
The Korean "image picture" is a ubiquitous photographic practice that can be most easily likened to typical rites of social recording that exxist in almost any family portrait studio on planet Earth. However, there is one crucial difference here worth highlighting as a peculiarly Korean practice and a critical part of a general, Korean photographic habitus. In the typical family portrait studio generally found anywhere in the world, there is a staff photographer employed by the studio who controls the equipment and takes the picture for a fee. This kind of professional photo service exists in Korea, of course, and is utilized by families and individuals for all kinds of uses from family portraits to passport and resume pictures. However, the "image picture" practice is a peculiarly Korean cultural invention that eschews the use of a permanent staff photographer in favor of an open studio format that provides the backgrounds, props, and lighting options that clients (or groups of clients) utilize as they take pictures with their own cameras. Typically, groups of students, often female, take image pictures to record their social groups or individual friendships, and it is typical to see small groups of high school friends, club members, or even just pairs or trios of close friends taking pictures of themselves in studios that provide everything from simple benches to pose with all the way to specialized clothing from animal costumes to wedding dresses and faux high fashion items with which to playfully pose. It is worth noting that the "dress cafe" was a popular destination for small groups of female friends in the early years of the new millennium, but the popularity of that trend in photographic practice has waned in favor of more general photo studios available for use to make "image pictures."
In Korea, as of this writing, resume pictures are a required part of any formal application process.
Amateur Editorial Shoots
Amateur editorial shoots are...
High-Concept Selfies and portraits
High-Concept Selfies are...
An Ethnomethodological Analysis: The Paepi, Fashion, and the Curated Self
It is in the realm of the habitus that we must locate a Cultural Studies-based look at the motivations that underlie social habits and choices. It is here that an ethnomethodology offers a deeper insight than what is generally described as a mere ethnography. Rather than approaching the paepi as mere illustrative examples within a typology, or more specifically (as is often the case), understanding them in terms of a sociological gaze already familiar with the fashion tribes of Japan, the analysis here takes a significantly different methodological step. The textbook definition of Ethnomethodology, for those unfamiliar with the term and approach, is "the study of sense-making in the social world, and as such turns to the raw material of the world for data." Like the more general category of ethnography within which ethnomethodology finds itself, EM is concerned with the gathering of empirical data within a group or type of people, but the approach differs from traditional ethnography in that the real-world, qualitative data does not exist merely as something to parse through with external theoretical tools; it is an approach that is crucially concerned with how members of the group that is subject to the participant-observer's analystical gaze construct the rules that they employ to make sense of their world, to carry out tasks, to get things done. The researcher's main goal is to discern the set of rules that the group uses to make sense of itself and exist in the real word. EM is very much grounded in the concerns of reality while being (in)famously unconcerned with the dictates of a staid and traditional structural functionalist sociology, for example, that tends to interpret social action in the narrow view of fostering social cohesion. One common tool of EM is conversation analysis (hereafter, CA), which takes a very different approach to evaluating social actions and even the social meanings of simple conversational exchanges. John Macauley puts it succinctly:
Ethnomethodology focuses on the scene while ethnography focuses on the group. From this perspective, the ethnographer will seek to spend long periods of time immersed in a field setting. They will attempt to broaden their understanding of relationships and activities of the group. They will take account of how the group live and make sense of their surrounding world. Often the ethnographer takes the position of participant-observer pursuing two roles, both as a member and reporter of the group (Hine 2000: pg5). Thus the focus of the ethnographer is firmly fixed upon the group - how the group develop rituals and create culture. The ethnomethodologist, in contrast, is more ambivalent towards how the group’s culture develops. Rather, the ethnomethodologist is concerned with how recognisable social order is created within the group. If the group is the locus of investigation Garfinkel suggests sociological method as appropriate. On the other hand if the locus of investigation is the processes that the group operate, then this is the realm of the ethnomethodologist (Heritage 1984: pg199). Thus, ethnomethodology shifts the focus
of analysis from the population to the scene - a view inconsistent with other forms of sociology. (McAuley, 10)
Here, it is crucial to understand what the place of what EM practoctoioners call "conversation anlysis" or CA for short, in which short snippets of speech-as-text are analyzed according to context-specific criteria, as opposed to their strictly-undeerstood function within a language. Generally, EM practitioners have come to the consensus that CA should be practiced on unmediated snippets of conversation observed by the observer herself, as opposed to understanding them in recorded or otherwise mediated encounters. (MaCauley, 11)
It is here that thismight seem to pose a problem for the purposes of our present analysis in that the "conversations"-as-pictures we are evaluating are in fact heavily mediated However, in the interest of utilizing this facile tool while updating it to be used with different kinds of social interactions, I postulate that the photograph, in the way it is utilized in social media, is very much tool -- or a snippet -- of a larger conversation in much the same way that Conversations take place betweenTo individuals speaking face-to-face. Obviously, the problem here lies in the fact that CA's original formulation would seemingly not allow mushroom for its use in a heavily mediated interaction such as found in the exchange of pictures on the social Internet. However, I would like to suggest here that's the profile pictures used by paepi to represent themselves to the world on Facebook, for example, are not merely the pictures that some people might take them for, as accurate representatives of reality, but heavily mediated statements about identity that are often quite divorced from the exigencies of the Real. They are very much textual statements whose contexts need to be understood before understanding what they mean.
And it is at this point that CA sets the ball to be handled by the next theoretical player, which is that of semiotics. And it is at this point that one might refer to the picture above of Hyeji, one of the paepi who allowed her picture to be used as fodder for this article's analysis.
Hyeji's case is what shows us the importance of ethnomethodology as placed within the framework of field theory, since the field can tell us how different actors relate to and compete with one another within its boundaries, but in order to understand individual motivations, via the semiotic conversations that they produce, it is important to come to understand what motivates actors as they navigate a social field, in terms of what they are actually saying. And in the conversation about paepi, whose distinguishing characteristic is that of fashion and dress, it is in the realm of the body that we must locate our understanding of Bourdieau's cultural capital, especially in the embodied form he argues is most diffuse and difficult to see, but is crucial in the building of cultural capital. That is our of main concern in trying to understand who the paepi are as social actors within the KAGFaC field.
The paepi are successful at navigating KAGFaC as mediated people in the world of hyper-extended selves, as masters of what Brooke Duffy and Emily Hund have aptly described as an "entrepreneurial femininity" in which many fashion bloggers and others do productive work in which the self is the product, as they themselves as fashion/photographic subject have become the product itself, the brand. (Duffy et al)
Duffy and Hund employed their term as they described Western fashion bloggers-as-entrepreneurs, mostly in the realm of Instagram and blogging platforms, but the concept is of great use in the Korean case. For the paepi are fluent in the way that (Western) social media creates not only the means, but the need to curate and even brand one's extended self. This is what some other actors (professional fashion designers and their brands) in the KAGFaC field pay other actors within the field (PR firms that represent brands and even the SFW brand of the city) to do but continually fail to gain traction in terms of the global charge of the field. These traditional actors fail on the level of globality, the very level where the paepi unintentionally succeed. And since KAGFaC is as dominated by Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as any other fields in an increasingly smaller and more globally interconnected world, the paepi rise to the top of the field and accomplish what professional fashion designers and their industry organizations cannot, even with the nearly inexhaustible resources and money of an actor such as the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism behind them.
With the global charge of the KAGFaC field lost upon most of the actors within it, most actors are not able to garner the coveted global recognition of which coverage in international press outlets is both a symbol and concrete enabler. And this is true, despite the fact that the putative paepi social actor is not even actually a single actor in motion as a unified body with a conscious will or action plan; despite being relatively bereft of other forms of fiscal, objectified or institutional social capital, or a relative modicum of the embodied cultural capital (habitus) that other actors are possessed of either individually or in tandem, this being English language ability that come through desirable educational pedigrees and preparation, along with the concrete connections this brings. Indeed, despite actually being apparently fatally crippled in the game of gaining primacy via globility within KAGFaC, when international press come even to cover the high fashion event Seoul Fashion Week, the only coverage revolves around street fashion, a conversation in which the paepi become the main cast and characters.
The entrepreneurial aspect of their identities that spurs them on, but it is the struggle for fast social capital in the virtual communities tey have created that truly motivates them to engage in the struggle for primacy within the KAGFaC field. For example, Hyeji has 10,300 followers to her personal Facebook profile, which is no mean feat by any, even paepi, standards.
Here, it is important to consider the paepi's unity as a social actor in the field not in terms of a singular agency, since they are really a group of individual agents flying in loose formation , united not by a unitary will, interest, or even avowed purpose. Their connective tissue as a social actor/group of social actors is defined by a being a living, breathing, fast-adapting site of creativity itself, defined and situated as they are within the KAGFaC field. This is the sense, constructed as it is for the purpose of theoretical facility, that we can look at the paepi organizationally. It is at this point I would like to quote Emirbayer et al at length again:
One might speak here of an organizational habitus, where it not for the dangers of reification inherent in such usage, dangers to which Bourdieu himself points whenever he invokes such generalizing notions as the class or group habitus. As we elaborate in the latter half of this article, emergent position takings on the part of an organization must always be understood, not as the self expressions of a singular actor, but rather, as compromise products of the whole complex in the negotiations and contestations unfolding over time within that organization understood as itself a field. (19)
It is at this point that I would venture to disagree only by way of offering my agreement that talking about a diffuse group of actors within the field as a single actor and then speaking of their organizational habitus is indeed engaging in the dangerous reification that can grossly oversimplify while obfuscating the complexity that needs to be taken into account in the final analysis. Yet, I would disagree in that the way in which I argue that the very unity of the paepi is constituted, in that their very unity as an agent comes from not agency, will or asingularity of purpose but by occupying a certain positionality within a "space of possibles" that defines them in terms of occupying a common cultural site of creativity, which is where one might argue the power of their organizational or group habitus finds its fullest ability to flower. Indeed, Emirbayer et al reminds us that "organizational actors distinguish themselves from others within their field by means of symbolically meaningful position takings — e.g., works, services, acts, arguments, products —which derive their semiotic significance in relational fashion from there difference vis-à-vis other such position takings within a space of position takings." And this is the key point at which the usefulness of our ethnomethodological study of the paepi comes into even sharper relief. Amirbayer et al asks this as a rhetorical question but actually goes so far as to answer it:
Now, what is the relation between culture, understood as a space of position–takings, and social structure, understood as a space of positions? Bourdieu has given more than one answer to this question, vacillating between a reduction his point of view – the space of positions as primary — and another that affirms the analytic independence of cultural formations. And our view, while the structure of the field of positions restricts the actual and potential position-takings available to specific actors within it, conversely, the structure of the field of position–takings effectively permits only certain kinds of organizations to assume particulars Stances or to enter into the field or market produce in particular kinds of goods or services hence the space of position takings retains, as a semantic structure of differences, the degree of relative autonomy to be the space of positions and the arguments of those positions, such the culture itself can be said to be relatively autonomous in respect to social structure... (Emirbayer et al, 15)
Indeed, this is where things get truly interesting, as this is the point where we can begin to theorize a relationship between a diffuse notion of culture and more concrete social structures, as enabled by an analysis using Bourdieu's concept of the field.
In summary, the idea of the space of possibles (symbiotic or cultural structure), conceived in its interrelation with a space of positions (a social structure), provides us with crucial insights into the conditions for — and constraints on — organizational creativity. It allows us to see how new position – takings become possible with an organizational fields — but possible only for some and under highly delimited conditions — and how those possibilities then get acted on and realized by particular organizations. Organizations can have an important impact on the fields within which they are located, apprehending and season upon opportunities (lacunae) within the extant field of possibles and introducing key innovations wit in that field which other organizations then have to take into account and to respond to dialogically in turn. (Emirbayer et al, 15)
-- Explain the NYT, VOGUE examples, Google hits of search term "Korean fashion"
Indeed, since the extent to which the paepi have come to dominate the field in which they suddenly (and unexpectedly) find themselves occupying, a consideration of the cultural world of the paepis is crucial towards gaining an understanding of who they are and how they they came to occupy the space they do within the KAGFaC field, as is the need to understand how they construct the rules that constitute their identities around fashion as they do, and how the particular conditions of their habitus got them there. This is the key point at which we can utilise habitus as an incredibly facile tool with which to connect the micro world of individual psychology of motivations to that of agency within a macro field of larger social relationships and concerns. It is also the point at which we can discern how larger social forces can unintentionally create sites of creativity where they were not intended and why our theoretical tools can assist in identifying them as such while possibly helping to preserve them.
Conclusion: The Paepi as a Site of Creativity and the Hyperreal
It is at this point that it becomes easy to bring together Belk's concept of the "extended self" and Guy Lebord's notion of "the Society of the spectacle" as we try to understand the nature of the paepi's creativity. As Korean society has become a place in which the division between the Signified and Signifier has not only become blurred to the point of irreversible unintelligbility, but in which that division has become regarded as meaningless, in which the Real has become indecipherable from Spectacle, it becomes possible to regard the present situation from the inside and in terms of the people who utilize these signs and symbols to make sense of their lifeworld as Korean paepi. Taken apart from the moral and ethical admonitions common in the west -- where there is what has been called a "fetishization of the natural" (Brown, 56) -- there is still a preoccupation with the perceived social and psychological harm done in an age in which the Original (or a state of Originality) no longer has any meaning, as the copies or digitally altered versions are able to stand in for it.
In terms of how the west understands Creativity in terms of a Primacy of the Original, even the persistence of discourses on the folly of Korean plastic surgery and the excesses of Korean beauty culture (Taeyeon Kim) are indicative of an essentially conservative and reductive notion of Creativity. Once we abandon the obsession with the "fetishization of the natural", the obession with the Original -- as many of the paepi have in their photographic and self-branding practices -- it becomes easy to see their fashion/photographic/representation practices in terms of an inherently postmodern and poststructuralist form of remixing, a form of hyperreal, postmodern pastiche-making that distinguishes their group and its generative activities as a veritable site of Creativity that can no longer be denied. And this is what makes those who cannot see past their apparently outrageous acts as anything other than social and semiotic distortion cannot see the value in what they produce and represent in terms of their place in a putative "creative economy."
This December 2015 marks the five-year anniversary of Facebook's entrance into Korea, where it has enjoyed unparalleled commercial and social success. Korea is a prime market for the service in terms of the ways highlighted in this article, asthe infrastructrure of Korea's IT environment has led to an infrastructure of social practices and a habitus that comes together in a uniquely Korean way that has import for the world. As Facebook Korea's chief Cho Yeong-beom was quoted recently in The Korea Times, ""Up to 94 percent of Facebook users in Korea connect to it with mobile equipment, the highest such rate in the world." (Choi, Korea Times) Quoted in a similar article in The Korea Herald, Cho pointed out that Facebook-owned Instagram posted the fastest growth of any market in the world in 2015 as well, due to the peculiar traits of the Korean market's users, who are unlike anyone else in the world. (Kim, Korea Herald) This should not be surprising, given the particularly robust and focused utilization by the Korean paepi and their many followers.
Indeed, as we have seen, even if we look at the paepi in terms of the government's framework of commodifying, packaging, and selling "cultural content" to the highest bidder, the paepi are doing a better job of it than others in their particular field. But if we look a bit deeper, enabled by the insights that an ethnomethodological understanding of how they make sense of their social world, how they understand themselves, it become easy to see that they have succeeded on a level we that it takes some time to understand. They are ahead of the curve; the Korean paepi are social actor on the cusp, on the bleeding edge of a society that is already the a vanguard in terms of media infrastructure and the uses it allows. The paepi are already comfortable being at the place to which societies are already hurtling, headlong and haphazardly, in which the Spectacle is as real and meaningful as any understanding of etic or objective Reality.
Indeed, in an age of mediated and "extended" selves, in which the effects of acts of terror have their most visceral social impact on glowing phosphor and LCD screens, in which Photoshop and surgical technologies lead to the same conclusion as expressed in the flesh. Far different from the fashion tribes of Japan such as say a celemba or a gyaru, for whom clothing was nothing more than a cipher for certain social codes of group identification, the Korean paepi, understood not as a fashion subculture, but a social type grounded in both media and other social habituses related to their generational moment in time, constitute a unique site of Creativity itself that must be understood in their own terms such that we can see how important they are to our understanding of how media, society, and identity intertwine and interleave such that they change the very understanding of culture and Creativity itself.
This article has presented the paepi as a generationally unique group of people that finds itself placed within a field of social action by virtue of their ability to instinctively engaage in creative acts of semiotic remixing and representation through the production of various cultural texts, sartorial, photographic, and virtual, with which they produce knowledge about themselves and communicate with others in society, both inside and outside the group. The habitus and other structurally-formed social orientations that they possess and which helps them command creative forces is also shared by other social products of a recognized "creative economy" that has become commercialized into what has come to be known as "hallyu," most notably in the K-pop field. it is no coincidence that, even amongst the massive efforts of government-backed institutions to globalize and commodify aspects of Korean popular culture, two of the most globally successful products of the creative music field also came from quite unexpected individual actors, most notably performer PSY and singer CL. In 2012, many Korean pundits made great efforts to clearly understand and explain why it had been two relatively middling and (by Korean standards) unremarkable acts that had managed, by dint of international recognition, to succeed far beyond the dreams of other acts in the K-pop field. The answer is quite similar to what we have explored here in the field theory analysis of Korean fashion and the paepi, as that group was able to enter the field and succeed in many ways within it in ways that were quite unexpected by other field members.
In the parallel case of K-pop, it was also a particular kind of habitus, albeit one more aesthetically informed by musical genres and literal remixing, that made for the magical ingredient of success defined as global recognition. Although a lengthy exploration of PSY's ingenious connection with global trends in electronic music and ability to engage in multi-layered, subtextual social criticism disguised as comedy that allowed his music to connect with audiences both global and domestic, as well as CL's inspired appropriation of American the underground "trap" trend in American hip hop, her ability to rap in ebonics-0inflected English, along with her own skillful and careful prodding and titillation of potentially sensitive areas within Korean popular discourses of sex and gender would be beyond the scope of the present article, it is useful to point out the fact that mainstream actors in these fields completely miss the boat -- and the habitus-informed cultural knowledge -- that would allow them to succeed in their respective, increasingly globalized fields. In this way, the paepi within a global Korean fashion field and K-pop performers within one of popular Korean music share similar attributes that lead to their success in becoming leaders in their respective fields, even if it is to their own -- and others' complete surprise. These cases of success within various parts of the general "creative economy" is something that establishment societal actors would do well to study and consider much more seriously. As far as the paepi are concerned, this group of young culture mixers and makers are the site of the most creative creation of any sector of society active in hat could be described in any cultural field.
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