Cultural Studies
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Being Surplus in the Age of New Media: Ing-Yeo Subjectivity and Youth Culture in South Korea

Sangmin Kim

Major Professor: Hugh Gusterson, PhD, CHSSWeb Design 3

Committee Members: Tim Gibson, Alison Landsberg

Enterprise Hall, #318
December 01, 2015, 02:00 PM to 11:00 AM

Abstract:

In the late 2000s in South Korea, a social phenomenon emerged of youth who call themselves “ing-yeo,” or “surplus human being.” This dissertation argues that this term is in fact an expression that properly reflects these youths’ political-economic reality and their characteristics in cultural activities. Since the late nineties, with increased productivity through technological development and the introduction of neoliberal policies, Korean society has faced a situation in which more and more youth are unemployed, and, for that reason, have more and more free time in which to participate in useless and meaningless activities. Within this situation, the ing-yeo subjects internalize neoliberal techniques of self-improvement, on the one hand, and practice escape to the fantasy world of the enjoying cynical and self-deprecating, on the other. I investigate how the ing-yeo youths construct their unique cultural identity in the new media environment, though in fragmented and precarious forms, and how the the cultural value they create through their activities is appropriated by media capital. By applying an interdisciplinary approach in cultural studies that connects critical political economy, (new) media studies, and science and technology studies, this dissertation analyzes various discourses and cultural conditions of the youth in crisis. I have also collected some valuable information through a series of interviews with self-proclaimed ing-yeo subjects. To illuminate the ing-yeo subjectivity, I explore the political, economic, and technological background of Korean society from which the ing-yeo emerged, the cultural characteristics around the ing-yeo subjects, and the various forms of existence of the precarious youth immersed in new media technologies. I conclude that the ing-yeo’s pursuit of perverse cultural enjoyment is based on their self-awareness of their insecure status in the current political-economic reality and their anxiety about the hopeless future.

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