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Centre of Korean Studies

The Spec Generation Who Can’t Say “No”: Overeducated and Underemployed Youth in Contemporary South Korea

Professor Haejoang Cho

Date: 30 October 2015Time: 5:15 PM

Finishes: 30 October 2015Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Brunei GalleryRoom: B102

Type of Event: Seminar

Series: CKS Seminar Programme


The financial crisis of 1997 and the concomitant economic recession have transformed South Korean society at breakneck speed. Highly motivated and adventurous youth, whom the media called the “new generation,” played a crucial role in revitalizing the economy. The state and industry invested in their initiatives out of concern for future economic development. By the late 2000s, however, a new neoliberal youth subject came to dominate South Korea. Having internalized the ruthless competition on the labour market, these young people centered their lives on building “specs” (specifications) in order to increase their marketability. This article argues that the state and the family joined forces in order to help young people accept the deregulation of the labour market. While the state established an education market, parents (especially “manager moms”) contributed to the development of this market by encouraging their children to accumulate specs. A prominent effect of these changes was that young people grew to become “kidults” in cases in which their parents had the means to continue supporting them into adulthood. If that was not the case, they were left to care for themselves. Whereas the former group adapted to the cutthroat competition, the latter accepted disenfranchisement. This article concludes by considering what politics these young people might develop that would enable them to combat their ever-decreasing chances of becoming self-sustaining adults. Keywords youth, labour, new generation, spec generation, education market, manager mothers, postcapitalist politics, South Korea


Haejoang Cho is a professor Emeritus of Yonsei University, is cultural anthropologist in training and has been teaching at the department of Sociology and Cultural Anthropology of Yonsei University since 1979. Her early research focused on gender studies in Korean modern history; her current interests are in the area of youth, informal life-politics and research methodology in the global/local and post-colonial context of modern day Korea. She has just started a collective research on radicalization of the youth with young researchers.

Cho is a major South Korean feminist intellectual, author of 8 books, and one of the key figures in creating critical public scenes since the 1980's. She is the founding director of Haja center (The Seoul Youth Factory for Alternative Culture) which is designed as a creative commons/cultural studio for the teenagers since 1999. The Haja project has been launched as a part of 'action research' of solving the problems of youth from the perspectives of feminism and cultural studies of the rapidly globalizing risk society in East Asian context.

Cho 's books include Women and Men in South Korea (1988) which has been published into Japanese as Korean Society and the Gender, Hose University Press, three volumes of Reading Texts, Reading Lives in the Postcolonial Era (1992, 1994), Children Refusing School, Society Refusing Children (1996), Reflexive Modernity and Feminism (1998), and Children Searching School, Society Searching Children (2000), and It’s Life-Learning Community Again (2007), Back to the Classroom: Reading Text and Everyday Lives in Neo-liberal Era (2009), and Jagonggong: Communities of Reciprocity (2014). Talking at the Edge: Letters between Japanese and Korean Feminists (2004)is Co-authored Book with Ueno Chizuko. Japanese version is published under the title, Can the Words Reach?(Iwanami Publisher). 


This seminar is free and open to the public. No registration is required.

Organiser: Centre of Korean Studies

Contact email: centres@soas.ac.uk

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