The Slow Dance of the Korean Street Fashion Paepi: Performing Hypermodern Corporealized Agency through "Hip(g)nosis"

 Here, her clothing is a focused statement of alterity  comprised of a semiotic vocabulary of imposed meanings taken from consumer society,  which she literally embodies as a hypermodern melange of unmoored meaning. 

Here, her clothing is a focused statement of alterity  comprised of a semiotic vocabulary of imposed meanings taken from consumer society,  which she literally embodies as a hypermodern melange of unmoored meaning. 

The main argument here draws from Melissa Blanco-Borelli's fascinating and facile theory of "hip(g)nosis" that allows an understanding of the performative sartorial acts of the Korean paepi to be understood, in sum,  in three ways:

  1. as signifying acts marking them as a site of agency.
  2. a record of Korean modern history, industrial development, and massive structural changes. The paepi are, inevitably, a record and product of Seoul's rapid, forced, and fraught development. 
  3. a body technique.

One might ask the question of why a concept from critical dance studies should be applied to the case of street fashion paepi in South Korea, especially when the term evolved from a critical analysis of race and gender in the markedly different context of nationality, geopolitics, and the politics of race/gender in Cuba. An examination of Blanco Borelli's own explication of the term easily makes clear why it is an extremely facile theoretical tool that brings together the notion of gender,  corporeality, and performance:

Critical dance studies articulate the reality of the embodied experience. As a result, the term corporeality functions as a way to read the body along the social, cultural, and historical processes that shape it...dance studies allow the mulata to emerge as an active corporeality—a lived body with experiences in the material world—rather than as a static product of national discourses...(Blanco Borelli, 14)

Put simply, and parsed through the needs of this article, this theory from a field far, far away allows the performative, sartorial acts of individuals to be understood in the context of, as the result of, and in discursive opposition to the far larger forces of national identity and its neo-liberal reiterations,  the imperatives of marketing, advertising, and (self-)representation , and the consumptive relations of production. Put actually far more simply, it allows a closer understanding of individual identity expression within the context of far larger ideological and structural forces that try to shape people into units of production/consumption. It is my argument that the Korean paepi are engaged in the struggle to productively navigate and even resist these forces.  Their sartorial acts of identity performance are significant moments of ongoing efforts to make sense of the self within a veritable whirlwind of mediated messages, ideological imperatives, and X. The moments of that struggle are writ large and unapologetically on the (almost exclusively) young Korean bodies and interpellated into meaning through the use of many cameras connected to the greater social mediascape.

It is only in this mediated, photographically interpellated way that what many young, Korean, individual social actors can guarantee that what they do in their individually-invisible social life will indeed echo in eternity. (Do I have to quote this?) In this way of interpellation, it is not the the Althusserian notion of ideology mediating between large, incomprehensible societal structures working to define/control them, but rather an active, purposeful act of agency in which clothing and the camera can join in/at the realm of the corporeal to allow individuals to make sense of themselves outside of the strictures of the forces that would make sense of them. Inevitably and in this way, the sartorial acts of the paepi are ones of defiance. And even if there is no actual defiance either consciously or subconsciously involved, it is possible to say that even the act of actively trying to interpellate oneself, by and for oneself,  is one that is inherently defiant. And in the final analysis, quite un-Korean. 

In the bigger picture, this paper approaches the putative "paepi" as members of an increasingly youthed culture that focuses, crystallizes, and stages the performance of their hypermodern, corporealized agency, writ sartorially large on their bodies, as part of a struggle to make sense of an irrepressible, always interpellating self that is more than just the sum of various social forces, and is an attempt to offer a way of understanding who they are without the common tendency to theoretically overdetermine their identities as mere passive consumers, trend robots, or even kids of the "counterculture."  

Why Korean Street Fashion Is Important (And It's not because of the "K")

There is a tendency to dismiss fashion and its concerns as superficial, trivial, and in the end, inconsequential. There is also the sense that fashion -- especially "street fashion" -- is too sqaurely located in the market itself, too near the ground, and hence too unfocused through the more evolved critical faculties of society's cultural elites or more cultivated and connected aesthetes. And in that sense, street fashion is too unruly, too uncontrolled, and too unfocused to really make any real sense out of. All of these things seem to be true if a look at most of the existing literature on Korean popular culture is any guide, which is exactly why a look at street fashion, especially in the historically layered, compressed development-turbocharged, culture industry-driven petri dish that defines South Korea is crucial necessity at this point in the theoretical conversation.

If one is to speak meaningfully of popular culture in the Cultural Studies sense, it is important to note that the "K-pop" and "K-cinema" incarnations of Korean popular culture are difficult to difficult to describe as such, given how little most of these fields' manifestations are rooted in the work and workings of everyday people. Along the lines of how Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer described the "culture industry," the "K-pop" and other commercial, corporate formations in the economy are best described as simulations of natural, popular cultural formations more than entities that are an organic part of society themselves. As windows into the workings of lived reality of everyday people, as a peek into the content of their social norms and values, a close look at the specific cultural products in these fields are not especially revelatory in themselves; rather, the more useful way of looking at these formations of capital production is in terms of the responses and forms of engagement they engender from normal people. Which is why the study of various fandoms is important and has accelerated and intensified in the way that theorists such as Stuart Hall would find critically useful to the syuudy of "pop culture." 

And this is exactly why Korean street fashion and its constituent paepi are important as social phenomena to theorize. Because, of all the things worthy of the attention of the Cultural Studies theorist that fall within the realm of the widest definition of "popular culture," the street fashion field/phenomenon/formation is the most truly organic and naturally-evolved realm of linked social actions that aren't controlled by a very monied and interested few. The field of Korean street fashion includes the least number of political/governmental motivations to subsume this popular endeavor into the nationalist frame and signifier of the "K." Far too much academic effort has been made to rationalize the appending of a K-prefix to  words describing popular social phenomena, with little thought given to the inherent contradiction of studying the predations of political interests or the concatenations of capital as actual "popular" culture. Simply put, the productis of these formations are popular in their consumption, but not in their creation. And this limits their utility as a marker of what is really going on in the real of social action. As this paper will show, what is especially interesting about the street fashion paepi is how they have engaged in linked social actions that have come to define a field unto itself by turning consumption into creation. And that is the purest sense of how Cultural Studies ur-theorist Stuart Hall might describe the "Special K" signifier often assigned by institutionally-interested parties as the ultimate "discursive formation" of top-down, oppressive power, whereas the much more organic, bottom-up discursive formation signified by the term "paepi"  -- by the Signified themselves -- would mark the proper regard -- and theoretical approach -- to the serious consideration of the vibrant, sartorially-oriented community that has formed amongst South Korean youth. Such serious consideration should be a matter of course given their status not as a mere "subculture" or "tribe," but as a "scene" of the sartorial staging of consumption-as-creation the likes of which the world has never seen. This analysis would be in line of Shane Blackman's excavation and explication of Steven Miles' far more theoretically useful notion of "lifestyle" as the best descriptor of what's is happening with the paepi:  

The work of Steven Miles is comparable with that of Bennett to the extent that he proposes a theory of lifestyle based on a critique of the CCCS theory of subculture and identifies consumer culture as offering individuality for young people. Miles’s interpretation is more structural; he argues that ‘lifestyles are not individualized in nature but are constructed through affiliation and negotiation . . . Lifestyles are, in effect, lived cultures in which individuals actively express their identities, but in direct relation to their position as regards the dominant culture’ (Miles 2000: 16). This argument is a reconfiguration of the CCCS theory of subculture with its implicit use of Gramsci’s ideas where he asserts the desire to speak about the dominant culture in terms of institutions such as school, the labour market and ‘power structures’ (2000: 9). For him youth identities are constructed through stable commonalties: ‘through consumer goods, which allows them to feel unique’ (Miles 1995: 42). It is clear that Miles wishes to promote an understanding of youth subcultural identity as stable, which offers agency, but he sees adherence to particular forms of collective solidarity as more ephemeral due to conditions of postmodernity. (Blackman, 122)

As those on the inside of it know, "paepi" is an aspirational lifestyle, marked by conspicuous consumption and sartorial display as the locus and point of the social activity itself, rather than as mere markers of other social norms or values outside of the consumptive acts themselves. 

 

On the Putative "Paepi"

This short section needs to be the definitive, yet succinct and brief explanation of the informal slang term "paepi" as both the portmanteau term from the first syllable of the Korean pronunciation of the English words for "fashion people" (pæ-piː /pae-pee) and also as a concept centering on people primarily (or greatly) concerned with fashion. But the explanation must also include the insight, gleaned from years of asking apparent paepi what they think of the term and whether they consider themselves a person within the category, that the term and concept itself is heavily fraught, contested, and approached with some degree of suspicion, even as it is highly facile as a referer for the purposes of easy, everyday discussion.

 

An Overview and Critical Backgrounding of "Street Fashion" -- The First Wave and Generative Moment of Japan

Given that haute couture fashion has always been a white, European space in its origination and articulation as a field, albeit one marked by brief and occasional interruptions by fleeting "guest appearances" of raced alterity brought with, on, and through colorful bodies, the inherent whiteness of the (high) fashion field has never been significantly interrupted. 

But in the lower realm of "street fashion," raced bodies have held a different valence in a field with a far shorter history, marked by most scholars of the subject from the first appearances of the "straight-up" fashion portrait in i–D Magazine in 1980 (Rocamora, 185).  It may be obvious that it is likely no coincidence that "street fashion", as an ongoing procession of the weird, found its origination and eventual articulation in the popular imaginary, as both a field and popular practice, through its first, Japanese iteration. 

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But even the appearance of the vaunted Fruits in 1997, Japanese street fashion in the 1990s eventually found comfortable, permanent reception in the West as a part of the Orientalist view of "Wacky Japan" (Wagenaar) or even "Cool Japan" trope (Leavitt) One reason this is true has to do with the reception of the particular styles in question being essentially in-the-street manifestations of mostly Harajuku or Shibuya fashion as haute couture fashion objects with very little connection to real life sartorial uses or concerns. They were always objects of nearly pure spectacle, and there was a particularly Japanese warp and woof to "street fashion," especially as that was often embodied in  the "Harajuku girl" look, as well as a very particular trajectory to the structural forces, demographic shifts, and cultural manifestations as exemplified and incorporated by the kogaru in Japanese society that explain how the street fashion kids in Tokyo started appearing in the first place. (Suzuki et al) The origins and articulations of Japanese street fashion placed Japanese street fashion into a haute couture space of spectacle defined by extremely raced bodies through the work of photographer Shoichi Aoki (Black, 239) before settling, as a category, into a default, not-as-heavily-raced category that eventually became a normalized, photo-sartorial practice through the work of American photographer Scott Schumann. 

The Age of The Sartorialist:
The Normalization, Globalized Aesthetic Standardization, and De-racing of "Street Fashion"

Here, we need to talk about street fashion as a normalized, heavily mediated and commercially interpellated,  photo-sartorial practice. Scott Schumann played a huge role in this.

(insereted from another piece here)
Too often, fashion editorials focus on only one extreme of aesthetic reality, namely the tallest, the thinnest, the prettiest, the sexiest -- all statistical outliers. But there's a very large middle range of height, style, and level of social normalcy. So we decided to do a concept on a look that really defines the dead center of a relatively conservative Korean women's fashion code. This idea comes from Korean comments that a lot of the paepi fashion and photographs of them are pleasant, haute couture thought pieces but are so far removed from many people's sartorial and social reality that the subjects don't even seem Korean.

Which is a very Korean thing to say. But there's something to that idea. What can street fashion photography tell us about Korean culture? And to take this line of thinking even further, what is even particularly Korean about Korean street fashion, if it's not all particularly Korean material, patterns, or even brand that we are looking at? Does this mean the only true Korean fashion is the traditional hanbok? What is Korean fashion, really? This is the crux of the existential problem with street fashion of any kind, especially if we are looking at fashion as a window towards understanding culture. And it also invites the inevitable epistemelogical question of what can we know about any society through a lensed view of it? This was exactly the problem when world-renowned street photographer Scott Schumann visited Seoul several years ago and took some shots of "Korean" street fashion. 

 Scott Schuman, Seoul, 2009? 2011? (Double check)

Scott Schuman, Seoul, 2009? 2011? (Double check)

Herein lies the problem. This picture of a dapper and debonair gent peacocking around Gangnam is certainly fashionable and great to look at, but he is as much an outlier case in Korean society as he would be in any and many other countries. He's not representative case of what anything approaching how any kind of majority of Korean dress, no matter how broadly dressing "well" is defined, which makes him have much more in common with kindred spirits in London, Berlin, New York, Rome, or LA. What many street fashion photographers across the planet are actually documenting is an increasingly global, non-culturally specific culture of dressing well, one that is enabled by global media outlets, the ubiquity of the Internet, and the homogenization of taste. What Schuman's much fetéd visit to Korea actually meant to many Koreans concerned with his visit was how it marked a certain kind of recognition from the White West, that Korea -- the Korean fashion field, actually -- had achieved the much-coveted status of the truly Global that has been both a societal and state goal since the days when former president Kim Youngsam's new segyehwa policy seemed like an overly hopeful pipe dream. 

Power, History, and Sadaejuui
What Scott Schumann surely didn't know about Korean culture -- and allowed Korea to fete his visit even as it scratched its collective and figurative head at his actual pictures -- was that certain key socio-historical frames of thinking were responsible for the extremely warm welcome he was given in a country where most everyday folks and fashion civilians had barely even heard of him. Korea in the modern era and for a good several centuries before it has always been affected by colonial or neo-colonial relationships with vastly more powerful sponsor states. This was true for China, which was never a conqueror or a sovereign over ancient Korea (Joseon), but a suzerain. The first great articulator (and architect) of modern Korean history, Shin Chae-ho, called this relationship (and the lackeyesque attitude/identity it engendered) sa-dae-ju-ui, a four character Chinese term that means "deference to the greater power") "Korea" had enjoyed a mostly beneficial suzerainty relationship with "China" for a huge stretch of historical time by the time imperial Japan formally annexed Korea in 1910 and officially ended Korea's political independence and forced Korea into a traditional, exploitative colonial  relationship that would last until the Japanese empire's resource needs clashed with that of the United States, causing the ill-fated political decision to "brush back" the US with the attack on Pearl Harbor, which launched a war that would end with the nuclear obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the end of the Japanese military empire, and suddenly thrust a newly liberated South Korea into the controlling hands of its former vanquisher's vanquisher. To allow sadaejuui to make sense of all of this, as the greater power changed from China to Japan to the United States, the language of power changed from Chinese to Japanese to English. The race of the Powerful Ones changed, as did the ideologies which justified and rationalized their cultural power, and the common sense ways of making sense of the world also changed, from the pure Han Chinese ideal that overlapped quite well with Korean notions of ethnicity and aesthetics, to one that privileged the pure, Sun God Ameterasu-descended, pure Yamato race of Japan, to that of the American notion that "White is Right", since the fact that the racial hierarchy of their new occupiers mattered in how things got done and who got to do them was not lost on Koreans. The fact that few blacks were officers were black and almost all blacks were enlisted men was not lost on Koreans, and even Korean prostitutes knew not to cross the racial lines dictated by their clientele; you either took black guys or white soldiers, not both. Add to this the powerful messages sent by Hollywood films and American television, magazines, and popular music and it makes for quite a heady Cocktail of Western Power. 

The "Global Fetish"
And yes, Koreans had to imbibe that special cocktail of geopolitical-cultural power, to drink that special flavor of the neo-colonial Kool-Aid. And it was within that general historio-psychological frame of sadaejuui that Korean national development took place, with the concrete assistance and support of the USA (and former colonizer Japan, many Koreans like to conveniently forget), while that development process found internal validation through external markers. Symbolic GDP levels of 10,000 or 20,000 per capita GDP were important psychological moments for Korea, as were the 1988 Olympics, which was both an impetus and a symbol for Korea becoming modern, or at least, being seen that way. This sadaejuui pattern of thinking backgrounded everything Koreans did on their own, internally, with validation of these efforts coming from the outside, most importantly, the White West, and even more importantly, the USA. So, as the "global" has become more than just a pipe dream and a reality for a Korea with not just a highly developed infrastructure in heavy industry, factory production, and ideologies of anti-Communism that have served the Republic well, but which now has a highly developed popular culture infrastructure in music, film, food, and fashion, there is now a discernible "global fetish" that undergirds and validates Korean cultural projects. The recent "Premium Korea" ad from the CJ group is a perfect case with which to illustrate how sadajuui has evolved into a "global fetish" (a brilliant concept articulated by scholar Kim Hyunjung) that both undergirds and validates all commercial and cultural endeavors in Korea, as well as the Korean national project itself. And this mode of thinking imbricates the Korean fashion field as well, from the runway down to the street.

The East Strikes Back:  Korean Street Fashion and the Paepi as a Site of Photo-Sartorial Performance 

We are talking Korean street fashion, in the wake of the standardization and normalization of the genre by and through the Sartorialist, and how the Korean aesthetic, as one developed from the peculiar and particular cocktail of cultural hybridity, textual impurity (Dal Yong Jin), and postcoloniality (YYY) enabled and amplified by the "social mediascape"  in the context of describing the success of hallyu, was able to quickly metastasize into the de facto street fashion aesthetic standard by which all others are now judged. To some extent, this must have to do with the fact that the original street fashion body was, in its initial iteration, Asian. In a similar way, the West has long been engaged in a relationship comfortable with a longing (and often Orientalizing) sartorial gaze towards the East.  (develop this)

Talking about the Korean paepi necessitates a conversation about the body as a site of cultural production. It is, therefore, useful to reference Melissa Blanco -Borelli's theoretically facile notion of "hip-(g)nosis." The body is a site/tool/act of, or a way to act out culture -- to produce it -- they are not mere passive conduits for culture to be produced through or on them. (Put some Stuart Hall on it here.) Most importantly, the paepi embody a hypermodern, corporealized agency created as the result of a self-actualized remix and rearticulation of imposed aesthetic, structural, and cultural signifiers, focused through a South Korean emphasis on body techniques (Tae-yeon Kim)

 "If the body exists as a rich site of embodied knowledges determined and shaped by lived reality and socio-historical contexts, then hip(g)nosis is a theoretical method through which to understand it." (Blanco-Borelli, 42)

"If the body exists as a rich site of embodied knowledges determined and shaped by lived reality and socio-historical contexts, then hip(g)nosis is a theoretical method through which to understand it." (Blanco-Borelli, 42)

On the Invisible Labor of Beauty,  Hip(g)nosis, and the Photo-Sartorial Gaze

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"The varnished aspect of the Young-Girl's physiognomy must be explained by the fact that as a commodity she is the crystallization of a certain amount of labor expended in order to make her meet the standards for a certain type of exchange. And the form in which the Young-Girl appears, which is also the commodity form, is characterized by the concealment, or at least the voluntary forgetting, of this concrete labor." -- Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl by Tiqqun, Chapter 4

There is little doubt as to the fact of the laboriousness of beautification.

Indeed, Melissa Blanco Borelli speaks to this -- without the pervasive, subtle misogyny that serves to ruin Tiqqun's otherwise ingenious work of gendered consumption and consumer culture Raw Materials for a Theory of the Young-Girl -- when she states, quite simply, that "Beauty appears laborless, its affect magical. Part of deeming something beautiful is erasing the labor that went into its production; effortlessness adds to ideas of successful beauty." (Blanco Borelli, 19) Blanco Borelli's theory of hip(g)nosis comes from an analysis of the mulata body, which is a decidedly different context from Korean street fashion and the paepi, but what is of particular relevance and use is the way hip(g)nosis theorizes embodied experience and the body as "a site of discourse." (Blanco Borelli, 15) 

It is in this way this paper will approach the performative self-stylings of the paepi. As the analysis progresses, it will stay centered around the easy to overlook yet obvious "corporeality." Again, mirroring Blanco Borelli's incisive concept of hip(g)nosis in critical dance studies, we will also "see the body as an intelligent materiality" and present the body "as an intelligent, powerful materiality that can(re)write history, comment on socio-political situations, and question the construction of its identity and bodily inscriptions." Of course, Blanco Borelli, in her important work She Is Cuba: A Genealogy of the Mulata Body, she is engaged in a decidedly feminist discourse about femininity that resists masculinist, colonialist regimes of control and domination that posits this resistance to external articulation from above as prima facie demonstration of raced, gendered agency, but that particular specificity in her theory of hip(g)nosis does not make the theory any less applicable for the purposes of this study of the agency of the Korean paepi.

Essentially, the discourse on the Korean paepi is  inherently, deeply gendered. No matter the popular, ostensive reason for looking at the Korean paepi, their main point of interest, from many angles, is the extent to which gender codes, boundaries, or even gendered modes of sartorial self-representation are challenged or actively broken. In a typical report covering the most recent Seoul Fashion Week (which, importantly, conflates both high fashion and street style in its analysis). Indeed, as he opines in British GQ that "Koreans Do It Better," writer Anders Christian Madsen waxes sociological:

"In a time of androgyny and gender-neutrality - embodied by Alessandro Michele's collections for Gucci over the past year - the look and attitude of Seoul's male youth makes total sense. While homosexuality is legal in Korea it's still somewhat taboo, paradoxically creating a youth scene of free expression where a certain look isn't necessarily associated with a certain sexuality.
It enables young men to dress up largely without prejudice, a scenario that's virtually unimaginable in the West. In Korea the term 'kkonminam' - flower boys - has long been used to describe the male look perhaps best known from K-Pop where elfin- looking young men transform themselves into effeminate porcelain roses ; without sexual connotation, mind you. Justin Bieber is a man's man compared to these boys, but girls still scream for them. For Seoul's fashion industry and its poster boys, the new menswear revolution is a reality." (Mansen in British GQ)

Gender transgressiveness, many reports on Korean men's style concur, is why Korean male fashion is the fashion scene to watch. And the referent on which the analysis depends is usually that of the putative inflexibility, narrowness, and hence conservativeness of maleness and its associated sartorial options in the "West."

Indeed, even in more general coverage of Seoul Fashion Week in extremely popular online magazines such as High Snobiety, such as in its most recent story/slideshow "The Street Style at Seoul Fashion Week SS18 Was Next Level", most of the images provided seemed to focus on (as it does in many western-based outlets covering Korean fashion on gendered sartorial acts such as couples clothing or gender-transgressing men and women as found in androgynous looks and significant signifiers, when not focused on the expected subjects of "striking patterns, bright colors and trending statement pieces", which are themselves also often contextualized as gender-transgressive. (High Snobiety, October 2017)

Indeed, in my own photographic practice, the question often comes up as to why I tend to shoot women in my portraits. Besides my standard, pat response that "women are generally the active subjects (doing) and objects (of) the fashion gaze" as a field, since my interest in street fashion portraiture is largely rooted in identity and gender in Korea, it makes sense that my own ethnographic and photographic gaze tends to skew female, as does the frequency of female subjects when counting my pictures. And when I do also take pictures of male subjects, it also generally tends to be through the discursive lens of gender and identity as I parse the image-interaction into sociological data. 

The Dongdaemun Design Plaza and the Staging of Korean Street Fashion 

It should almost go without saying that one does not perform a dance, play, or put on another performative act, alone or without an audience. And more often than not, connecting with an audience or onlookers is facilitated by a stage. This section will talk theoretically about "staging" from performance studies and more specifically, about the role of the DDP in socially focusing or enabling certain kinds of action in terms of architectural theory. (Patrik Schumacher, Zaheerah Yun)

How Bodies Move Through Fields

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 behavior 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 remember the concept of sadaejuui when we look at the way in which the commercialization and commodification of Korean culture and the desire to promote and export it outside of Korea’s borders, which scholar  Hyunjung Lee has crystallized into the notion of a “global fetish” in staged cultural productions. She points out how the notion of the “global” in South Korea has become so highly prioritized that it has become its own rationale, one capable of explaining just 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 functions to “globalize” South Korea. Seoul Fashion Week has certainly been overcome with just such a "fetish" and it certainly informed my initial ability to enter the field as a non-Korean foreigner possessed of almost no fashion-related cultural capital worthy of granting my access to most fashion weeks in other parts of the world...

THE KOREAN ASPIRATIONALLY GLOBAL FASHION COMPLEX

A FIELD INSIDER
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 organized and controlled way, with the goal of gathering the global gaze as a given. Here, I'll use the insightful example and theoretical framing of Joanne Entwistle and Agnès Rocamora's 2006 field theory analysis of London Fashion Week "The Field of Fashion Materialized: A Study of London Fashion Week." Therein, the authors were able to enter the major event in the field, a "fashion week" as fashion researcher academics. In my own case, I have been attending Seoul Fashion Week every season for more than a decade as a member of the field -- a freelance photographer for organizations from CNN Travel, The Korea Herald, and The Huffington Post as a participant-practitioner who is able to make even more in-depth analyses from the "inside." In addition to the several hats I have worn as a freelance photographer, I was already known during those years as the first street fashion photographer and blogger in Korea, having shot street fashion publicly since late 2006. Also, by around 2011, I had also begun working as the house and/or backstage photographer for at least three Korean fashion designers, namely Yang Hee Deuk (양희득), Doii Lee (이도이), and IM Seon Oc (임선옥). Lastly, I have been covering SFW as press under the auspices of a local fashion industry newspaper called TINNews (The Industry News) to provide highly stylized street fashion portraits, which has allowed me to enjoy great latitude in gaining access to other field members. 

 Doii Lee fashion show at Seoul Fashion Week SS2011 (Taken October, 2010)

Doii Lee fashion show at Seoul Fashion Week SS2011 (Taken October, 2010)

THE KOREAN FASHION FIELD
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 district of 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 being 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

 

 

 

On the Hybridity, Impurity, and Postcoloniality of Korean Popular Culture Texts

Untitled

These days, students can't read. Of course, students these days can read characters and words and sentences just as well as at any other time in modern history. But what I mean to say is that students can't read entire cultural texts and their many non-obvious, complex, and multi-layered meanings. This is especially true with my undergraduates in South Korea, who are the victims of a rote memorization-obsessed learning system in which the only contact with the fine arts of literature or even writing or poetry are through the dubious filtration of knowledge that comes with multiple-choice answers. And American education is heading more in this direction than it isn't these days, since assessing knowledge is easier through the device of 4 or 5 options with a single, correct answer. 

In my experience teaching Korean popular culture texts in Korea to undergraduates, many of whom are Korean and many of whom are not, I have found that most undergraduates -- despite being possessed of a great deal of interest in subjects such as K-pop or Korean dramas -- are completely at a loss as to how to usefully talk about popular culture texts outside of an "I like it very, very much" manner. A problem that seems especially exacerbated in Korea, the inability to critically, academically engage in textual analysis stems from the fact that their professors have not trained them to do so. 

Most Korean students seem woefully unfamiliar with how to look at pop culture products as "texts" that require particularly trained kinds of "readings" or "subtexts" as anything other than simply heavily coded and obscure "hidden messages" that only certain, highly trained people can even discern. Most have never taken a literature class that encouraged close reading of texts, nor about the history of themes and literary devices as they took shape across a long period of time in particular cultures. Examples might be the convention of the Christfigur (as seen in Matrix: Revolutions, Robocop, or Man of Steel) or the idea of the Bildungsroman (as seen in the character arc of Luke in Star Wars: Episode IV). I believe students are unaware of the idea that most literature occurs across three essential types of conflict: man v. man, man vs. nature, and man vs. himself. If there is this high school-level literary literacy, it is usually a mere awareness that this is as a thing, with no experience critically reading literature beyond the level of a text to superficially understand, chracters to memorize, etc. 

 

This obviously presents a problem when I do something as simple as play a K-pop video for a class such as "The Sociology of Popular Culture." My Korean students, I've observed, have been passively trained to view popular culture as their teachers, instructors, and professors have, which is superficially, dismissively, and merely as what it ostensibly is: mere entertainment and something for which one flips one's mental/critical gears quickly and squarely into the OFF position. And this is in a country that has identified popular culture texts as one of its most vital export industries!

Case in point -- here's a video I like to show in my relevant classes to start off a conversation about reading cultural texts, 1) because everyone knows and tends to like CL, 2) CL has achieved a great deal of commercial success, and 3) because the video is chock full of various multicultural textual elements and clearly and cleanly appropriates their varied meanings into the service of her own meta-text.

And finally, this is a 4) textbook example of what Jin and Yoon are talking about in terms of the "hybridity" and "impurity" of Korean pop culture texts. 

What I point out in the CL video above is the degree to which it successfully appropriates all kinds of cultural elements that are indeed alien to anything going on in Korean society and are loaded with meaning from value systems that are at least somewhat to completely incompatible with Korean society. Having a gold "grill" (with fangs, no less!), lascivious play with and display of a riding crop, which is a mainstay of S/M culture, the obvious nod to chola culture with the lowrider bicycle and the apparent moment of arrest by the police, which all adds up to a nod in the direction of LA gang culture, as well as urban life in LA, especially as punctuated by the allusion to actual biker gangs, then the performance of a dance "gang" with masks and apparently "dangerous" wear and moves. It is all topped off by a shot of  Adidas shoes tied together and thrown over a wire, which is a staple in urban, gang culture as a momunment to someone dearly departed. None of these elements are familiar to the average Korean viewer and in fact likely feel quite foreign objects that mark foreign practices from foreign -- nay, American -- cultural contexts. 

The fact of the foreignness of these objects is not lost on a Korean viewer. Indeed, in the overlapping historio-psychological modes of Korean thinking of sadaejuui and modern Korean post-coloniality, it is the particular way in which they are foreign that is important. 

Put simply, Korean people are quite used to bright and shiny, obviously and incongruously foreign things sticking out from Korean cultures, aesthetics, and things, from Koreanness itself. And the way the sticking out happens is, for the most part, shot through with positive feelings, positive connotations. Ever since the beginning of Korean modernity itself -- and one shouldn't forget that the very ideas of progress, enlightenment, and modernity themselves were initially foreign concepts from outside, mostly filtered through Japan -- foreign things have always been associated with things that were generally understood to be good. (assign Andre Schmid's Korea Between Empires here.)

Then Korea enters its quite accidental encounter with America in the 1950s and ends up under the control and in the thrall of the notion of America and her things. American technologies, buildings, fashions, music, aesthetics, ideas, and even American English. And things American are not only obviously superior, but they are good

Americans, on the other hand, are generally used to a different relationship with foreign otherness within the realm of popular culture and aesthetic concerns. Americans generally don't like to watch subtitled films, listen to pop music in languages they don't understand, or wear fashions that obviously come from specific other places. Now, when one adds on the historically specific encounter with an entity such as Frenchness, the feelings become suddenly, starkly (and perhaps even viciously) negative. The French language itself sounds effeminate and offensively foreign to American ears in a way that Italian or Spanish do not (those languages are a whole separate set of stories), the idea of sporting French fashions seems pompous and even ostentatious, and one must consider the way that the descriptor French itself carries the notion of something done wrong or even perversely. The "French kiss" is a lewd, tongue-filled verson of a normal, decent kiss, since the French were known for doing things more lasciviously and decadently --immorally -- than Americans thought of themselves as doing. This is the particular way that Americans constructed Americanness against this particular other. Whatever the reasons or particular examples, the general Korean cultural attitude toward a certain kind of otherness vis a vis the great powers that have at different times exerted great influence over Korea has historically been one of deferential respect, especially as other great powers have carried with/through their influence ideas such as Enlightenment, Progress, or Modernity. Clear examples of how certain attitudes and positive "gusts of popular feeling" rode along with the concrete objects or technologies that marked these concepts were the Newspaper, the idea of National History, and the Department Store, respectively. In fact, one can argue (as scholar Katarzyna J. Cwiertka has brilliantly talked about in an essay called "Dining Out in the Land of Desire: Colonial Seoul and the Korean Culture of Consumption"). 

Indeed, as several top Korean Studies scholars of modernity in Korea have argued elsewhere, even the very notions of modern identity and subjectivity themselves found expression and focus through now-seemingly-mundane things/places/concepts such as the department store, the radio, the movie theater, the public school, or even popular notions, such as the "modern girl" or "culture" -- and it should not escape the astute reader's notice that many of these concepts revolve centrally around new forms of modern media and modern modes of economic consumption. None of this relationship between what "historical materialist" historians such as the infamous Karl Marx call the fundamental and concrete, economic base of society (you could think of this as one might the hardware of a computer, which is one way I tell my students to think about it) that largely creates/controls/influences the malleable, less concrete stuff atop it (one might think of this as the "software") called the superstructure has changed much. This is what Cultural Studies folks believe, and how such scholars think -- that the stuff in our heads, or that comes from our heads, such as found in ideas or beliefs (ideology), things with messages such as novels, movies, and music videos (cultural texts), or even practices (say, like bowing to one's elders, trends in popular dance) all exist within the bounds of social norms (rules to live by) that support the smooth operation of the base. 

Yes, even -- and perhaps especially -- everyday fashion. If say, one lives within an economy defined by consumer capitalism that encourages -- nay, relies upon -- people consuming things to keep the fires burning and the wheels turning, and one of the popular impetuses of buying is argued to be that one's identity can best be defined through what one buys (such as in cell phone cases, t-shirts, or even the clothing one buys that define "looks" that identify our affinities, such as in "punk" or "goth"), it is easy to see why this kind of behavior bolsters a value that helps keep all kinds of consumption happening and seen as a positive social good. This is a Cultural Studies way of looking at say, Korean street fashion as a cultural text, as a social and economic activity that helps keep the machine of the base humming and thrumming and helps everything in society just make sense. 

We are indeed thinking about you.

That's the way we make sense of cultural texts, whether it be music video, a Hollywood film, or even the clothing one wears (especially if that clothing is associated with an identity such as a social class or a subculture). These cultural texts are both a product of the interests of the base, while also acting as tools of the base in order to help spread, bolster, and justify these values in society. That's true in general. 

But when it comes to looking at Korean Culture specifically, to the point of understanding why a specific text finds cultural or popular traction, one has to get nitty gritty with more specifics of particular histories and social analysis to come up with useful theoretical nuggets that help explain why things are popular (and hence really interesting to analyze closely as a Cultural Studies scholar). So, when talking about Korea and K-pop or Korean cinema, or even Korean street fashion, we get the ideas -- if you look really closely and think about it in an informed and focused way -- that these cultural texts all have something in common: that they are pssossed of a large amount of hybridity, impurity, and I would argue, a creamy frosting of postcoloniality that rests atop a big, fat cake of sadaejuui

To elaborate upon and continue this argument, the crucial third factor to think about when considering the power and viability of Korean popular culture texts is that of their postcoloniality. One of the things that adds to the powerfully persuasive cultural torque of the Korean pop culture engine is the extent to which Korea has become quite comfortable with its postcolonial existence. This should remind us of the fact of sadaejuui again. Koreans are comfortable with not just the presence of cultural otherness in the Korean milieau, but also the mixing of them with Korean cultural elements, which should connect up nicely with the ideas of hybridity and impurity. Consider PSY's "Gangnam Style" video, which itself was a tour de force demonstrating all of the aspects mentioned here.  

INSERT: Short, semiotic breakdown of  "Gangnam Style" as a a paragraph HERE.

The polysemic, multilayered, mixed, hybridity-and-impurity-filled text of "Gangnam Style" lent itself to myriad pastiches, remixes, and re-interpellations, as the existence of many parody and even homage videos attest to, with the remake/remix/redo by the ANIINKA traditional dance troupe hailing from the Ivory Coast quietly being one of the very best and illustrative examples.

It's a work of interpretive genius, and only came to exist because of some of the same factors that allowed "Gangnam Style" itself to exist, which was that perfect storm of textual mixture, Youtube, and the "social mediascape." It is these self-same factors that allowed something as relatively obscure a traditional art form as the Zaouli dance from the Ivory Coast (well on the edges of the Periphery) to mix and meld with an impure, hybrid text from South Korea and propagate itself across YouTube to yield nearly 250,000 views. Such is the virally, volatile mixture that "Gangnam Style" allows.

Outside of the concerns of dance scholars and ethnomusicologists -- and of course, people from Côte d'Ivoire itself -- this form of dance would probably remain in obscurity, save for the ingenious move of the Aniinka traditional dance troupe from Côte d'Ivoire in hitching its horse to PSY's juggernaut music video to gain a lot of publicity for itself. 

Two fashion design majors who say this is their look every day. Nobody move! This ain't no fucking cosplay, people.

These two young ladies, whom I interviewed briefly here, talk about some aspects of who they are, why they wear what they wear, and also some of the non-Korean influences of street fashion in relation to media. Their mixing and their look are possible in a time after the shift to complete comfort with (western) social media, the influences that it brought riding atop it, and the consumption-driven modes of expression that resulted, from the idea of being "fashion people" (paepi) to the creation of a critical social and psychological space for the idea of "Hell Joseon" in response to national political disenchantment. 

The "Urban Landscapes" of Seoul and the Ethnographic Practice of Street Fashion Photography

“urban landscape”

"Landscape": 

A cultural landscape, as defined by the World Heritage Committee, is the "cultural properties [that] represent the combined works of nature and of man."[1]
"a landscape designed and created intentionally by man"
an "organically evolved landscape" which may be a "relict (or fossil) landscape" or a "continuing landscape"
an "associative cultural landscape" which may be valued because of the "religious, artistic or cultural associations of the natural element."
There are two main meanings for the word landscape: it can refer to the visible features of an area of land, or to an example of the genre of painting that depicts such an area of land.[1] Landscape, in both senses, includes the physical elements of landforms such as (ice-capped) mountains, hills, water bodies such as rivers, lakes, ponds and the sea, living elements of land cover including indigenous vegetation, human elements including different forms of land use, buildings and structures, and transitory elements such as lighting and weather conditions.

By repurposing the concept “cultural landscape”, I propose a new direction, one partially (and minimally) explored by the century-old practice of street and the much younger genre of street fashion photography, in which physical landscapes are affected by their human geographies in a direct way, whether commercially through consumption (“ladification” in Seoul), governmentally through zoning or other kinds of use restrictions, or traditional/customary patterns in land/building usage or cultural practices within certain spaces. 

What i hope to do is demonstrate how fashion plays a discursive role in the consumptive sense in certain neighbourhoods in seoul, partially by using street fashion photography as part of an ethnographic profiling of certain neighbourhoods that have become greatly marked by processes of uniquely Seoulish “ladification” and how specific fashions become markers of certain kinds of people who are themselves representative consumers of certain cultures of seoul.

This is part of my bigger “Cultural Geographies of Seoul” project that I’m planning to launch with my Visual Sociology students from this semester, with outstanding final term ethnographic profiling assignments acting as some of its first studies. 

Some preliminary thoughts/field notes from a photographic perspective, from my body of around 15 years of street photography and 12 years of street fashion photography work in Seoul:

Shinchon:

Shinchon, August 2007.
IMG_5314 copy
Smoking on the move in shinchon. A decade ago, a young woman would never DARE openly light one up while walking on the street in Korea and even today, this sort of thing draws stares from other "respectable" young women. My companion while walking cl
A young lesbian couple goes at it in Shinchon's (in)famous Changcheon Children's Park.
Throwback Seoul Street Fashion: shinchon Park Couple, Shinchon , Seoul, 2011.
Throwback Seoul Street Fashion: Shinchon Girls, Shinchon, Seoul, 2011.
IMG_2972 copy

Myeongdong:

Within the neighborhood known as Myeongdong, it is easy to see the tension that the many street itinerants within this space feel as the (sole?) players culturally contesting both its use and its inhabitants. As even a single visit to the space shows, Myeongdong, as an area full of shops catering to its primarily female clientele, is one of open and conspicuous consumption, and has become the very symbol of that deadly sin and vice to the many itinerants of faith who come to not just proseyletize there, but to conspicuously condemn and exhort what they see as a place of unabashed sin, especially in its perception as a place of heavily gendered sin, i.e. the unfettered consumptive, concupiscent desires of young women on parade . Consumption is the main mode here, and young female consumers its prophets. 

IMG_1001
This is Myeongdong.
Myeongdong Minnie-me.
Flower girl in Myeongdong.
A Myeongdong tourist delicacy: What I like to call The Potatornado.
Myeongdong has long represented the excess of Cardinal sins, where concupiscent consumption happens  but Myeongdong hasn't REALLY been that since the Eighties, at the latest. These evangelical Korean Christians need to update their play book and go to Gan

Towards a methodology:

Quantitative parameters: As much as possible, there should be an image of every type of representative social character (preferably recorded in the style of the environmental portrait, which is as much as record of the subject's relationship to the environment as it is of the subject him or herself, and the relationship between the surveyer  and the surveyed. A good environmental portrait makes a statement about these aspects and relationships. In addition to examples of social types, there should also be clear examples of the kind of social practices that define the area in the city, likely done in the candid genre of street photography. This sets the bar quite high in terms of the sheer amount of physical, in-person ethnographic engagement required of the researcher/photographer, and is both a visual proof-of-life as participant-observer, as well as a source of ethnographic data itself, as each picture is the result of social interaction, by definition. To truly document a neighborhood in all its conceivable parameters, there would likely be at least three to dozens of photohgraphs if experience is any guide. 

Qualitative parameters: The "write-up", being based on the restrictions of the photographic typology of social characters and social types, still begs extensive textual explanation. One might explain, first of all, how/why certain social type were identified, while providing written explanations of some off the elements in the visual texts, explications of social interactions with and between human subjects in the pictures, as well as variations/multiplicity of social characters and practices that may differ enough that additional explication is needed. Additionally, the photographs themselves can provide non-verbal, direct explication of what a given urban landscape is really, socially like, in terms of the way is peopled, which is why photographs are important at all as visual data, as they can provide a direct experience of places -- its social valence -- in a way that verbiage is often inadequate to express, which has defined an ongoing epistemological problem ever since the written word, especially as it finds expression in the highly stylized, academic form that inevitably privileges a very narrow, positivistic way of conveying social knowledge. 

The overall empirical logic: All qualitative, ethnographic research is inherently inductive and is but a small picture, a snapshot that is argued to be representative of a greater, whole reality. The analogue of street photography images in standard ethnographic practice is that of an ethnographer standing on a street corner counting the number of people sporting short haircuts from a significant distance. The traditional methodological analogue of a street fashion portrait in this new approach would be that of an ethnographer stopping each short haircut-sporting subject and asking them how they feel about their haircut and their motivations for getting it. This is the fine grain view, since there is significant social interaction involved to get to the taking of a street fashion portrait. By utilizing inter-dependent, multimedia and multi-modal angles of empirical inquiry that, taken in the aggregate, adequately conveys a complete,  compelling, and consilient social picture of the subject/s being studied, which also utilizes different levels of interaction between the investigator and complete strangers, the overall effect can be that of a great deal of coherence between the various approaches and interactional techniques that result in a level of epistemological consilience, ethnographic coherence, and overall compellingness that is rare to find in the social sciences. 

The "urban landscape" approach, broken down:

  • a mix of the two most visceral, compelling, and data-rich forms of photography ethnographers can use: street photography and environmental portraiture
  • overlapping, reinforcing streams of interaction -- photography, interviews, and some degree of quantitative analysis 

An example of place data gleaned from two environmental portraits taken at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza in Seoul:

Throwback Saturday. My absolute favorite picture from SFW. Gender taboos have come a long way, baby.  Traditionally, women are supposed to only smoke under a roof, not ever outside, out in public. This young lady in the picture IS ladies, nowadays. Not al
Shirt girl n friend

Data Analysis: In the two pictures above, one of a college-age young woman who felt comefortable not only smoking in public, but being photographed and published doing so -- a pretty significant social taboo only a decade ago in Korea -- and the other of a 17year-old high-school girl sporting a backwards checkered shirt in a way (inspired by the Korean media star Kim Na-young) that reveals not only a significant amount of bare shoulder, but a bare back and bra strap, reveal a great deal of social bravery for violating a taboo for young girls her age in public places. Aside from the fact that the checkered-shirt girl is almost certainly required to adhere to strict dress norms during the day (in her school uniform), for a girl her age, this attire would certainly be be deemed too risqué by anyone of authority whom she personally knows. However, both young women feel comfortable pushing the envelope of acceptability in the transiently wildly open space of Seoul Fashion Week (SFW) that takes place twice a year (in March and October) inside or in the immediate environs of the Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), which is also known as an area of relative sartorial and hence social freedom. What is significant from interviewing the "I'm Ladies" subject is the fact that she not only feels safe smoking in public immediately in the SFW/DDP area itself, but that she feels safe about her photo being taken and even published by me, the photographer. The same can be said for the backwards shirt-wearing girl, but whose sartorial precociousness itself being somewhat socially unusual should mean that her willingness to pose should perhaps not be too surprising, but it also helps define the FSW/DDP space as indeed one worthy of the "fashion district" moniker supported by the municipal government. Both young women are typical of the kind of social/sartorial bravery that is typically displayed in the area, for quite some time. 

IMG_5755 copy
IMG_5744 copy

The young lady in the pictures from 2008 is standing across the street from the finished structure in which the two women in the first pictures find themselves either in front of or inside, respectively, but the more open sartorial/social nature of the space became apparent to me more than a decade ago, as one of the first places I ever saw a Korean woman openly and proudly sporting a tattoo, which was much more of a social taboo then than it is today. 

  

The Korean Paepi, The Mediated Self, and Fast Social Capital

 Fig. 1 -- Gyu-eun. A  paepi  (Korean  portmanteau  word from the Korean pronunciation of "fashion people" -- and informant from Seoul Fashion Week SS 2016 (in March 2015), who embodies the  paepis'  position as a site of creativity itself within the Korean fashion field, as her remixing of sartorial texts is as truly innovative and valued as most paepis' remediation and re-presentation of the virtual self.  (Photograph by author)

Fig. 1 -- Gyu-eun. A paepi (Korean portmanteau word from the Korean pronunciation of "fashion people" -- and informant from Seoul Fashion Week SS 2016 (in March 2015), who embodies the paepis' position as a site of creativity itself within the Korean fashion field, as her remixing of sartorial texts is as truly innovative and valued as most paepis' remediation and re-presentation of the virtual self.

(Photograph by author)

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

 

INTRODUCTION

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. 

METHODOLOGY

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)

Theory

 

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)

Finished photo class up in the Taco Bell as usual and immediately bumped into the Usual Suspects of Street Fashion, two of whom I shot at SFW. they didn't need to be convinced to strike a pose.

Fig. 2 -- Paepi. 

Self-reflection.

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.”
Ecclesiastes

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.  

"Star Shots"

 Fig. 3 -- Star Wallet, circa 2002. 

Fig. 3 -- Star Wallet, circa 2002. 

In the late 1990s and early years of the milennium, 

 

"COSPLAY"

 fig 4 -- Cosplay, 2003. "COSPLAY" or "costume play" is a "migratory fan practice" that originated in Japan (Lammerichs 2013, 155) not in the strictest cultural sense but as a portmanteau word coined by Japanese game designer Takahashi Nobuyuki in the 1980s as he "the costuming practices of American fans on a visit to the United States." The practice became quite popular in Japanese fan communities, particlarly in anime fandoms. (Lammerichs 2011, 1.3) Interestingly, the concept is heavily associated with Japan because of the particular turn that the cosplay culture of Japan took, especially in terms of the conventions and associated photographic practices that evolved in photographic culture and which also found great purchase in South Korea. 

fig 4 -- Cosplay, 2003. "COSPLAY" or "costume play" is a "migratory fan practice" that originated in Japan (Lammerichs 2013, 155) not in the strictest cultural sense but as a portmanteau word coined by Japanese game designer Takahashi Nobuyuki in the 1980s as he "the costuming practices of American fans on a visit to the United States." The practice became quite popular in Japanese fan communities, particlarly in anime fandoms. (Lammerichs 2011, 1.3) Interestingly, the concept is heavily associated with Japan because of the particular turn that the cosplay culture of Japan took, especially in terms of the conventions and associated photographic practices that evolved in photographic culture and which also found great purchase in South Korea. 

 

The Sticker Picture

 Fig. 5 -- Yoojin's Sticker picture collection. 

Fig. 5 -- Yoojin's Sticker picture collection. 

 Fig 6 -- Sticker pictures were a major fixture in the lives of many Korean middle and high school girls, as it was for Q-yeon, now a university student.

Fig 6 -- Sticker pictures were a major fixture in the lives of many Korean middle and high school girls, as it was for Q-yeon, now a university student.

  diagram of the first  purikura  machine (Terashita, 87)

 diagram of the first purikura machine (Terashita, 87)

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"

 Fig. 7 -- Q-yeon's image picture for...

Fig. 7 -- Q-yeon's image picture for...

 Fig. 8 Q-yeon's image picture for her...

Fig. 8 Q-yeon's image picture for her...

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."

 Fig. 9 -- A "dress cafe" near Ewha Women's University, circ 2004.

Fig. 9 -- A "dress cafe" near Ewha Women's University, circ 2004.


Resume pictures

 Fig. 10 -- The caption on this resume in the "discsarded" pile reads "too old." The need to physically improve upon the "original", or at least heavily mediate with Photoshop, becomes concretely clear. 

Fig. 10 -- The caption on this resume in the "discsarded" pile reads "too old." The need to physically improve upon the "original", or at least heavily mediate with Photoshop, becomes concretely clear. 

In Korea, as of this writing, resume pictures are a required part of any formal application process. 

Amateur Editorial Shoots

  Fig. 11 -- Soyeon's preferred style seems to be duplicating the fashion editorial shoots that populate fashion magazines. 

 Fig. 11 -- Soyeon's preferred style seems to be duplicating the fashion editorial shoots that populate fashion magazines. 

 Fig 12 -- Yoojin engages in photography that often uses multimedia and abstract symbolism. 

Fig 12 -- Yoojin engages in photography that often uses multimedia and abstract symbolism. 

Amateur editorial shoots are...

High-Concept Selfies and portraits

 

 Fig. 13 -- Yoojin's self-portraits as creative and multi-textual as the mini-editorial shoots she often undertakes, which matches her street clothing style. 

Fig. 13 -- Yoojin's self-portraits as creative and multi-textual as the mini-editorial shoots she often undertakes, which matches her street clothing style. 

    Fig. 14 -- 

 

Fig. 14 -- 

 Fig 15 -- 

Fig 15 -- 

High-Concept Selfies are...

 Fig. 16 -- Paepi and photo collaborator Hye-ji's Instagram and Facebook profile shot, in which Photoshop as eye alteration tool need not be used in moderation or even have to reflect realistic proportions. The simulacrum is indeed true, with any understanding of  différance  from the signified being viewed as trifling and academic. What Hyeji "actually" looks like -- in a world where the self has become radically extended and increasingly virtually represented, in which images have become the person for many intents and purposes, where Photoshop is considered to be no more fakery than the application of makeup for polite social consumption -- has become increasing less relevant to social realities and options in hyperconnected and hyper-modern South Korean culture.

Fig. 16 -- Paepi and photo collaborator Hye-ji's Instagram and Facebook profile shot, in which Photoshop as eye alteration tool need not be used in moderation or even have to reflect realistic proportions. The simulacrum is indeed true, with any understanding of différance from the signified being viewed as trifling and academic. What Hyeji "actually" looks like -- in a world where the self has become radically extended and increasingly virtually represented, in which images have become the person for many intents and purposes, where Photoshop is considered to be no more fakery than the application of makeup for polite social consumption -- has become increasing less relevant to social realities and options in hyperconnected and hyper-modern South Korean culture.

 Fig. 17 -- Hye-ji on Instagram, apparently channeling Warhol's "Marilyn Diptych" except for the literal take on a "multiplicity of meaning" (Paglia)

Fig. 17 -- Hye-ji on Instagram, apparently channeling Warhol's "Marilyn Diptych" except for the literal take on a "multiplicity of meaning" (Paglia)

An Ethnomethodological Analysis: The Paepi, Fashion, and the Curated Self

 Fig. 18 -- Hye-ji's "Best Me" picture from her Facebook picture albums, with wig, generous application of the "Liquefy" filter in Photoshop, and creative color filters. Notably, Hye-ji has no pictures of herself on social media without this significant alteration of her eyes. In fact, this unrealistic feature in her pictures is one of the distinguishing (and possibly defining)aspects of her portraits and self-portraits.

Fig. 18 -- Hye-ji's "Best Me" picture from her Facebook picture albums, with wig, generous application of the "Liquefy" filter in Photoshop, and creative color filters. Notably, Hye-ji has no pictures of herself on social media without this significant alteration of her eyes. In fact, this unrealistic feature in her pictures is one of the distinguishing (and possibly defining)aspects of her portraits and self-portraits.

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.

 

Hyeji

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. 

 Fig. 19 -- "Entrepreneurial femininity." 2015.

Fig. 19 -- "Entrepreneurial femininity." 2015.

 Fig. 20 -- Hyeji playfully mimics the style of commercial ad photography in a photo that is a play with the signs and symbols of commercial advertising photography along with overt expressions of sexuality that would normally be considered a bit risque for a female minor in South Korea. But it is the simulation that Hyeji can deftly slip this somewhat sexual image can  under a social radar that often polices young women who violate accepted age and gender norms. 

Fig. 20 -- Hyeji playfully mimics the style of commercial ad photography in a photo that is a play with the signs and symbols of commercial advertising photography along with overt expressions of sexuality that would normally be considered a bit risque for a female minor in South Korea. But it is the simulation that Hyeji can deftly slip this somewhat sexual image can  under a social radar that often polices young women who violate accepted age and gender norms. 

 Fig. 21 -- It is interesting to note that Hyeji actually replaced the original picture with one that technically obscures the fact that she is consuming alcohol as a minor in the acceptably cute iconography of the sticker picture -- a common pictorial convention for covering faces and editing out visual information in Korea -- while maintaining the genre mimicry she is pointedly engaging in. 

Fig. 21 -- It is interesting to note that Hyeji actually replaced the original picture with one that technically obscures the fact that she is consuming alcohol as a minor in the acceptably cute iconography of the sticker picture -- a common pictorial convention for covering faces and editing out visual information in Korea -- while maintaining the genre mimicry she is pointedly engaging in. 

 

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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Nicolle Lamerichs
 

 

Emanuel. A. Schegoff (edited by Gene H. Lerner)
Conversation Analysis: Studies from the First Generation (2004)

 

Photo Booth Horrors: When Japanese Purikura Goes Wrong (accessed Dec 9, 2012) 
Steven Simonitch    
http://en.rocketnews24.com/2012/12/09/photo-booth-horrors-when-japanese-purikura-goes-wrong/

 

Suzuki, Tadashi and Joel Best. "The Emergence of Trendsetters for Fashions and Fads: Kogaru in 1990s Japan." The Sociological Quarterly.

 

プリクラ”ブームを作った人々 [The people who made the "purikura" boom]
Terashita N, Kudo H (1998). 
The Journal of The Institute of Electrical Engineers of Japan (in Japanese) 118 (2): 85–87. 

 

Thompson, Craig J. and Diana L. Haytko. "Speaking of Fashion: Consumers' Uses of Fashion Discourses and the Appropriation of Countervailing Cultural Meanings."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Street Fashion Is Sociologically Important

Slippers by day...

An article you should take a look at and an idea worthy of your intellectual consideration:

Fashion and the ways people dress are not only decided by the weather: because there are clothes you must wear and others that you just cannot appear in public anymore with, these seemingly individual decisions are in fact some truly social facts, as Émile Durkheim would probably have said. Moreover, the studying of fashion as a social phenomenon that influences the clothes we decide to buy, wear, and even be proud of (at least for some time) is possibly one of the easiest examples of what sociology is all about; with, in the case of fashion, numerous references to culture, norms, representations, consumption, social roles and models. Whenever a social scientist has to explain to any newcomer or non-sociologist the basics and purpose of the sociological science as a discipline, the understanding of fashion movements should be among the first examples that come to mind. Being ‘fashionable’ or, on the contrary, ‘out-of-fashion’ are the immediate consequences of judgments that are determined and limited by the cultural norms to which one belongs, at a given moment. Hence, whenever some people look at photographs of their youth, they are often ashamed of their previous looks and clothes even though they thought then they were absolutely à la mode.
http://soc.sagepub.com/content/47/2/407.short

"Appearance Stratification and Identity: Fashion as the Clearest Example of What Sociology is All About" (Yves Laberge 2013 47: 407 Sociology)

Girls in short skirts and soju. Semiotically linked in the culture in a way that Murica's Bud Girls don't know nothing about.
Korea, the land where everything is sold through a girl in a short skirt. On a repeat loop. And sometimes they throw in the girl.
"Women Soldiers."  Of course, kpop imaginings of women everything influences this look. Including the skirt lengths. The only military uniform I've ever seen shorter on a woman was Lt. Uhura on Star Trek. Granted, she WAS sitting most of the time, butt...
Still, in Seoul, the Code and Cult of Demure Domesticity dictates that, despite wearing a Ludicrously Short Skirt, the shoulders should be covered.
Even in coat weather, or sleet and snow, the skirts stay high as they ever were during the dog days of  summer.
Yongsan princess.

"Passing Through: Existential Authenticity in the Korean Street Fashion Practices of Chinese Tourists"

 Three Korean nationals wear the (now trendy)  hanbok  in Insadong, Seoul, which is a prime "arena of the authentic" in Korea, where the  hanbok  has long been a semiotic marker for Korean Tradition. In a Society of the Spectacle, even the Traditional has become just another referent in a sea of symbols that have become equivocated into meaninglessness, and just another element to be recycled into the relentless, all-consuming maw of the Trend Machine.

Three Korean nationals wear the (now trendy) hanbok in Insadong, Seoul, which is a prime "arena of the authentic" in Korea, where the hanbok has long been a semiotic marker for Korean Tradition. In a Society of the Spectacle, even the Traditional has become just another referent in a sea of symbols that have become equivocated into meaninglessness, and just another element to be recycled into the relentless, all-consuming maw of the Trend Machine.

Ning Wang (1999) provides a lot of the theoretical undergirding for this paper in his explication of what he calls "existential authenticity" in tourism studies. In observing and interacting with young subjects as a street photographer in Seoul, I have increasingly come into contact with seemingly Korean subjects around popular tourist sites who turn out to be Chinese nationals who  are merely in Korean dress.

Unlike traditional Chinese tourists who seem content to sightsee the city of Seoul as a site of many toured objects, there is a sizeable number of tourists from China who actively engage in the much more participatory act of finding trendy Korean clothing, wearing them, and experiencing Korea as an apparent Korean. The act of passing -- no matter how superficially -- as a Korean seems to add quite a bit of existential authenticity to the tourism experience in Korea. Initial conversations with several subjects has yielded the existence of an industry  dedicated to providing Chinese tourists with this experience of passing through Korea as a Korean

 Wang, N. (1999). " RETHINKING AUTHENTICITY IN TOURISM EXPERIENCE ." Annals of Tourism Research  26 (2): 349-370.      

Wang, N. (1999). "RETHINKING AUTHENTICITY IN TOURISM EXPERIENCE." Annals of Tourism Research 26(2): 349-370.

    

Background to the Study, from a Stunning Realization

I initially stumbled across the phenomenon of Chinese tourists “passing” as Korean locals as a street photographer shooting a story for the Huffington Post’s Style section, a story on the styles of the 2015 summer focusing on Ewha Women’s University in Seoul as a representative site of young female sartorial consumption. As an investigator and photographer, my goal was to identify the most common (frequently occurring) and representative examples of Korean summer 2015 fashions of the Seoul streets for the story. With my team of assistants/intern/students, we selected a young woman in an American football jersey dress who seemed the absolute epitome of that style of the time. 

After one of the student interns bravely grab her and combine her to pose, turns out she was with one of the many Chinese tourists who are legion at the Ewha front gate, which is apparently a major tourist destination for the Chinese who come to Korea, an

However, I was surprised to learn from our short interaction in Korean that not only was she a Chinese national but that she was on a short trip for shopping, and was wearing the dress, shoes, and other items she had bought on the very trip she was on. It was, however, our very next subject, who brought about the moment of realization that was the impetus for the writing of the present article. 

It seems like room most eye-catching Chinese tourists, and we were hoping to get more actual students from the University. Since it was lunchtime, we decided that moving in towards the center of campus would yield more Korean students actually attending t


On the same day and search for photographic subjects, we encountered two seemingly Korean young women dressed in matching trend items of the day, two sports jersey-style tops and a mass market approximation of the homemade “Daisy Duke” extremely short pants, made in the style of jean pants cut into shortsso short that the pockets extend below the home-hewn hemline, or alternatively, rolled up that short.

I bumped into this trend a young Korean woman — whoops – turns out she was Chinese, and not an exchange student, but a tourist. I've been meaning to follow up on what I say is this interesting pattern of young female Chinese tourists coming to Korea and b

From "Existential" to "Performative" Authenticity

And upgrade from "existential authenticity" -- "performative authenticity": an integrated notion that draws heavily on Judith Butler’s notion of identity performance, and Bourdieu’s field theory and habitus, and conveys the “transposition of objective structures of the field into subjective practice of the individuals.”(Zhu)

 

 

Chinese ajumma on a shopping trip through Jongno, central Seoul, where the tourists formerly didn't go very much. The only place more inscrutably, hardcore Korean than the Jongno district in Seoul is Yeongdeungpo, but I wonder now if even that area has fa
Chinese exchange student in Hongdae. The many Chinese rolling in Korean garb these days belie the growing popularity of Korean Wave products that make Korea the cool place to study abroad from other places in Asia.
He did his compulsory military service after his freshmen year. She's a Chinese university student in a Korean university. He was holding her purse before she reclaimed her accessory item for the shoot. An interesting story-in-a-picture here.

 

This Is Where It Gets Queer

This is where I take a sharp departure into the seemingly unusual theoretical toolbox of psychology and what is now called queer studies. Important to the notion of “performative authenticity” is where the performance of particular acts imbued with identity-relevant symbolic meaning are the points through which individuals can reach — and actively maintain — a state of “existential authenticity”. It must be achieved and maintained through performative acts. In this sense, I argue that there is a hugely useful theoretical parallel between male-to-female transvestism and cosplay. 

 

Magnus Hirschfeld is the legendary physician/sexologistwho was a “key player in the development of taxonomies of sexual identities and who coined the terms “transvestite” and “transsexual.” This is where Hirschfeld’s data becomes useful as a parallel case of “performative authenticity”, where queer theory can combine with Butlerian critical theory and lead us to some useful insights regarding the question of dress and the performance of imagined identities. In this sense, the cases aren’t all that different (Chinese or even modern Koreans wearing a hanbok, cosplay, and transvestism) and stand in a relationship of useful parallel. So, it's time to talk about sex -- very queer sex -- as a performative act that defines a state of being.

This is where we get to the meat of the matter. Prior to the work of Magnus Hirschfeld, Freudian psychology was too focused on "fetish" as the way of explaining (largely male) crossdressing; it was supposedly an act related to the sexual excitement had in response to an object that itself was imbibed with special sexual meaning due to its symbolic associations with the person it represented (often a mother, lover, or other object of sublimated sexual desire). But Hirschfeld had a different insight. He held that his largely "heterosexual" male interviewees didn't express symbolic, fetishistic desire to touch, wear, or masturbate upon certain physical objects (which were usually items of women's clothing), but they were actually objects that enabled fleeting yet intense moments of being women. Importantly, these were usually "women" in some idealized, fantasy form (an innocent child, prostitute, or respectable Lady) and often such women as engaged in fantastical moments of extreme being female in the context of hypersexualized, often pornographic notions of femininity, such as being forced into prostitution or being raped. Besides these fleeting instants of femininity, most men describing such sexually motivated feelings of authenticity as women emphasize their extreme distaste (or disgust at) for the idea of having sex with a man as a man. It is apparent that the pleasure in sexual congress comes from the pleasure in achieving authenticity as a woman through the performance of womanness as defined through clothing, as opposed to the sexual acts themselves.  

If the achievement of authenticity and the pleasure in passing is not something that is easy to maintain as a passive, static state, but is instead something that requires continuous effort though the constant performance of meaningful acts that actively define that existential state of being is something that nominally heterosexual male crossdressers do through clothing, the parallel to another situation in which sartorial practices define the achievement and maintenance of a state of pleasurable passing as defined through performativity -- Chinese tourists in Korea passing as Korean -- becomes clear. My own ethnographic interactions and interviews suggest this is a  major factor in why and how Chinese tourists come to Korea. 

Koreans, Tradition, and Arenas of the Authentic

It occurs to me that not only is there a well-defined notion of the Authentic in korean contemporary culture -- usually defined as things associated with a constructed notion of "Tradition" in Korea and with their many sartorial, fetish markers -- but there are actual arenas of the Authentic. These are geographic areas in Korea that are metonyms of the Traditional, such as Gyeongbuk Palace in Seoul. It is my argument that this explains the recent huge uptick in the sartorial practice of wearing hanbok in the vicinity of as well as inside traditional structures. In a tourist economy in which where natives and tourists are both engaged in a struggle to achieve a pleasure in performing an imagines Authentic (whether that be defined as a mere Korean or more ideally, a Traditional Korean), this points to a multi-layered kind of phenomenon involving objectivist notions of the authentic articulated somewhat separately from the concerns of the constructivist/existentialist notions of the authentic. But what about when the “arenas of authenticity" are increasingly occupied by natives engaging in the same performative practices as the tourists? It would be unusual to see this unless there were two levels of authenticity here, no?

 Two Chinese tourists "perform" Korean Tradition in the ultimate arena of Authenticity, the souvenir shop. 

Two Chinese tourists "perform" Korean Tradition in the ultimate arena of Authenticity, the souvenir shop. 

 Two Korean visitors to the Gyeongbok Palace "perform" Korean Tradition in the ultimate arena of Authenticity, the “souvenir shop” of national tourist sites. 

Two Korean visitors to the Gyeongbok Palace "perform" Korean Tradition in the ultimate arena of Authenticity, the “souvenir shop” of national tourist sites. 

In the midst of a “culture industry”-dominated society that has succeeded in commodifying culture as a major part of the economy, it makes sense that the natives take pleasure in consuming it, although the nature of the performative authenticity — the basis of authenticity itself — may be vastly different. But the forms of performing authenticity look largely the same, as do the end goals of achieving a state of existential authenticity. This is where what is now called “queer” identity, tourism studies, and visual sociology can come together …especially when these young women,from inside and outside Korea, are engaging in the same performative sartorial practices…

In a situation in which both natives and tourists are both engaging in performative authenticity within arenas of authenticity, really, who is impersonating whom, and which is any more "real" than than the other? Or, alternatively, is the Korean doing Traditional Korea any less other than the Other? 

 

 

Working Bibliography

Asphodel, Autumn. "Passing as Female | Male to Female Transgender / Transsexual" (YouTube Video). 2014. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XLTcwqfDKXE.

Hill, Darryl B. "Sexuality and Gender in Hirschfeld’s Die Transvestiten : A Case of the "Elusive Evidence of the Ordinary" " Journal of the History of Sexuality 14, no. 3, July (2005): 316-32.

Wang, N. (1999). "RETHINKING AUTHENTICITY IN TOURISM EXPERIENCE." Annals of Tourism Research 26(2): 349-370.

Zhu, Yujie. "Performing Heritage: Rethinking Authenticity in Tourism." Annals of Tourism Research 39 (2012): 1495-513. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.annals.2012.04.003.