Performative Labor: An Ethnography on South Korea’s Magazine Industry
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CitationChung, Vivien. 2021. Performative Labor: An Ethnography on South Korea’s Magazine Industry. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
AbstractThe belief that cultural goods are made by individuals with superior taste and skills has been central to the formation and reproduction of culture industries. In recent years, it has become ever more critical for workers to produce goods that are high in aesthetic and semiotic contents while continuously displaying their mastery in “creativity”—a phenomenon that has become particularly prevalent in the fashion industry. When workers are pressed to invest themselves in this additional labor, the fashion industry has become a winner-take-all market. Coining the concept “performative labor” to bring a semiotic perspective to the study on contemporary labor markets, this research illuminates the role presentation of self plays in the creative industry’s operations. Centered on South Korea’s “creative community,” which takes great pride in its creative identity that sets members apart from rest of the nation, the dissertation takes an ethnographic approach to studying editorial production performed by magazine editors, photographers, makeup artists, and hairstylists, who claim to do the “real work (shilmu) of creativity.” An analysis on the power dynamics among agents who inhabit different positions (e.g. full-time employees versus freelancers), including the same people in different contexts (e.g. editors at the publisher versus at photo shoots), illustrates how professionals vie for distinction, and, in the process, partake in the turnover of talent. A semiotic account reveals that individual and collective agencies are necessarily intertwined, challenging the myth of creative genius. The dissertation calls for greater attention to the politics of talent in the creative industries, and a further examination of creativity as both a contentious and collaborative process.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37370231
- FAS Theses and Dissertations