SOAS University of London

Japan & Korea Section, Department of East Asian Languages & Culture


Module Code:
FHEQ Level:
Year of study:
Year 1 or Year 2
Taught in:
Term 2

This module will examine the social and historical context of the recent boom in South Korea's popular culture, both domestically and internationally. It will look at the role of rapid economic development and the transition from dictatorship to democracy in providing the conditions for the creation of a ruthless and highly successful system of cultural production. The module will also encourage students to think critically about various aspects of South Korea's cultural production, including cinema, TV dramas and pop music as well as online and gaming cultures. The module will draw connections between cultural production and a number of acute issues in contemporary South Korean society such as misogyny and gendered violence, nationalism and racism, social alienation and bullying culture, as well as hyper-competition, lookism, classism and neoliberal subject formation. 



Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

On successful completion of this module a student will be able to:

  1. understand the historical context of contemporary South Korean culture and society
  2. understand the social, political and economic context of contemporary South Korean cultural phenomena
  3. address critically a variety of related issues such as: gender discrimination, commodification, social alienation, generation gaps, nationalism and racism in Korean culture
  4. gather and analyse information from secondary sources to build up a well-informed and original argument


Total of 10 weeks teaching with 2 hours classroom contact per week consisting of a 2 hour lecture.

Scope and syllabus

  1. Introduction
  2. Culture and society under authoritarian regimes
  3. Culture and society in democratised post-1987 South Korea
  4. Class and family as seen in television dramas
  5. Gender and violence in South Korean films
  6. The international Hallyu phenomenon
  7. Competitive Korea: Education, cosmetic surgery and lookism
  8. Nationalism and cultural production in contemporary Korea
  9. On-line culture and netizens in South Korea: from gaming to mokbang
  10. The K-pop system and its critics



Method of assessment

A reaction paper of 750 words (20%); an essay of 2,000 words due on day 1 in the term following teaching (80%).

Suggested reading

  • Keith Howard, Korean Pop Music: Riding the Wave (Dorset: Global Oriental, 2006)
  • Mary J. Ainslie, "Korean Overseas Investment and Soft Power: Hally in Laos," Korea Journal 56:3 (2016)
  • Andrew Jackson and Colette Balmain eds., Korean Screen Cultures: Interrogating Cinema, TV, Music and On-line Games (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2016)
  • Yoon Tae-jin and Yong Jin Dal eds., The Korean Wave: Evolution, Fandom and Transnationality (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2017)
  • Kyung Hyun Kim and Youngmin Choe eds., The Korean Popular Culture Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2014)


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules