College rank and neo-liberal subjectivity in South Korea: The burden of self-development

Nancy Abelmann, So Jin Park, Hyunhee Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper explores the ways in which contemporary college students in South Korea inhabit new discourses of human development in the context of South Korea's neo-liberal turn and globalization. By using ethnographic methods, we examine the lives of college students across three campuses, a top-tier private school and two mid-tier schools. The college students who we introduce all aspire to and accept the burden of managing their personal formation for a changing world. We note that the individuated way in which they narrate and take responsibility for their circumstances and predicaments is quite new and resonant with discussions of neo-liberal subjectivity. We show, however, how the burden of self-development is borne variously, according to differences in the 'brand capital' of the students' university, gender, and family background. We argue that neo-liberal subjectivity, highlighting personal ability, style, and responsibility, works to obscure escalating structural inequality in South Korea.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)229-247
Number of pages19
JournalInter-Asia Cultural Studies
Issue number2
StatePublished - Aug 11 2009


  • College rank
  • College students
  • Neo-liberal subjectivity
  • Self-development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies

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