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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Sovereign Beauty and Biopower in Post-Cold War South Korea, 1987-Present
by An, Susie, Ph.D., Yale University, 2018, 235; 13851835
Abstract (Summary)

Sovereign Beauty and Biopower in Post-Cold War South Korea, 1987-Present conceptualizes the Korean nationalist discourse of "reproducing the nation" through the analytic of sexuality. Sovereign Beauty introduces the "militarized modernity" period of South Korea [ 1961-1986] as a period where authoritarian governmental rule largely defines the discourse of sexuality within the nation—that of women being the problem of sexual reproductive labor. Sterilization was touted as being a "patriotic" form of contraception, and mass sterilizations were enacted amongst women in the two and a half decades of militarized modernity, reducing the rate of birth per household from 6.3 in the early 1960s to 1.6 in 1988.

Sovereign Beauty then looks at what happens with the instantiation of a liberal democracy [1987-Present], where the neoliberalization of biomedicine and the culture industries collide to form the collective notion of beauty in Korea. Beauty is wrought again through the woman's body, but in this case, justified for the production of social reproductive labor: social reproductive labor amounts to participation in heteronormative marriage, where the status of the groom is inherited and sustained through the "rational management" of the household. As men are primarily conceived as a "hot commodity" and "breadwinner" for whom to be competed amongst eligible bachelorettes, women must attain beauty in order to gain a competitive edge.

Sovereign Beauty argues that sexuality is iterated through the bodies of Korean women. as the problem and site of reproductive labor. The discourse of reproductive labor (as opposed to productive) and the discourse of the nation are gendered and entangled. The ousting of the Korean woman from the productive labor industries as contingent, temporary workers then necessitates their reach for beauty, in order to gain professional and personal success in an otherwise discriminatory and gendered labor market. I argue that there exist at least five different bodily-affective techniques of the self: undergoing cosmetic surgery, having disordered eating, adhering to rigorous skincare and cosmetic regimes, participating in selfie culture, and processing affect through watching K[-orean] Dramas.

The woman's reach for beauty through the physical manipulation/transformation of her body is propelled by familial and socio-cultural pressures and notions that "getting one's nose fixed" is like getting your "toilet fixed." The neoliberal framework equates the material rewards of acquiring the image of beauty with the biopolitical (bodily behaviors, habits) labor enacted in a socially-mediated desire to possess beauty. I look at music videos. advertisements, photographs, film, televised and now digitalized sentimental melodramas, social media, and fashion. I look at the reception of bloggers on popular media and describe cultural discourse in order to understand how issues of "representation" are solidified through media. My archive of popular visual media is used to substantiate my feminist reworking of the paradigm through which to understand beauty—not as a surface phenomenon of vanity, but rather, a form of biopolitical labor that actively fuels the gendered narratives produced by Korean culture industries.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Lui, Mary, Wexler, Laura
School: Yale University
School Location: United States -- Connecticut
Source: DAI-A 80/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian American Studies, Art history, Womens studies
Keywords: Beauty and Biopower, Liberal Modernity in Korea, Popular Visual Culture, Sexual and Social Reproduction, Women's Roles in Korea
Publication Number: 13851835
ISBN: 978-0-438-98318-2
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