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Document Type

Campus-Only Access for Five (5) Years

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program

Communication

Year Degree Awarded

2018

Month Degree Awarded

May

First Advisor

Briankle G. Chang

Second Advisor

Emily West

Third Advisor

Shawn Shimpach

Fourth Advisor

Mari Castaneda

Subject Categories

Critical and Cultural Studies | Korean Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Abstract

This dissertation is a multi-sited ethnography on the culture of wealth-tech in South Korea. Wealth-tech (chaet'ek'ŭ) refers to techniques of personal finance and moneymaking, including investments in stocks, mutual funds, real estate, and other financial products. It entered the everyday lexicon in the aftermath of the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997, when South Korea witnessed radical economic restructuring and neoliberal social governing. Situating the wealth-tech boom within the restructuring of the economy and subjectivity after the 1997 crisis, this dissertation explores a new mode of subject formation under the financialization of the South Korean economy.

Based on 15 months of participant observations and in-depth interviews in the greater Seoul area, this study examines the transformation of everyday individuals into financial investors. Four mutually-connected sites were observed: 1) one of the largest online wealth-tech communities, 2) an offline wealth-tech seminar derived from it, 3) an alumni group of the seminar program, and 4) a wealth-tech group organized through the largest online community. I therefore moved across mobile Social Network Service groups, offline seminars, study meetings, after-parties, and other various wealth-tech events, as well as online communities. By describing an ever-expanding network of wealth-tech platforms across online and offline, my dissertation seeks to overcome the prevailing focus on top-down discourses (e.g., economic journalism, business news channels, financial infotainment) of media and communication scholarship on financial capitalism.

With a focus on the intersection of financial capitalism and digital cultures, I argue that those who learn and practice wealth-tech (“wealth-techers”) have been produced into the networked financial subject. To complement previous conceptualizations of the financial subject that were developed by governmentality and performativity approaches—understood in close relation with calculative rationality, risk-management, and hyper-individuality—my dissertation builds upon recently revamped discussions of moral economy as well as upon cultural studies’ focus on affectivity. The multi-sited ethnography suggests that the critique of capitalism, emotional engagements, and enactments of community comprise the moral economy that governs the networked financial subject. This networked financial subject produced through the culture of wealth-tech is, therefore, a resistant, heartfelt, and bonding subject.

Available for download on Tuesday, May 11, 2021

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