[KS] KSR 2004-18: _Measured Excess: Status, Gender and Consumer Nationalism in South Korea_, by Laura Nelson

Stephen Epstein Stephen.Epstein at vuw.ac.nz
Wed Oct 20 07:27:05 EDT 2004

_Measured Excess: Status, Gender and Consumer Nationalism in South 
Korea_, by Laura Nelson. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000. 
224 pages. ISBN: 0-2311-1617-9.; $18.50 (paper).

reviewed by Mikyeong Bae
Keimyung University
baemik at kmu.ac.kr

[This review first appeared in _Acta Koreana_, 6.1 (2003): 31-34. 
_Acta Koreana_ is published by Academia Koreana of Keimyung 

The author of Measured Excess, Laura C. Nelson, argues that South 
Korea's identity has been as much tied to notions of the future as it 
is rooted in a recollection of the past. She offers an insightful 
analysis of the ways in which South Korean economic development 
strategies have reshaped the country's national identity. Especially, 
she indicates that South Korean's consumption is mainly rooted in a 
concept of national unity. Nelson also asserts that the government 
casts women as a group whose 'excessive desires' for material goods 
endangers this national unity.

	In the introduction and chapter 1, the author examines how 
South Korean's sense of national identity motivated much of the hard 
work of development beginning in the 1960s and continuing through the 
early 1990s and how intersections between international economic 
processes, the flow of time, and the mundane experience of life shape 
and strain the sense of national mission. In this chapter, the author 
asserts that South Korea's industrial concentration was mainly caused 
by the dominance of the 'chaebôl'. She describes South Korea's 
dramatic economic development as being related to the existence of 
'chaebôl' and an emphasis on national identity for the past 30 years. 
From the 1960s until the early 1980s, the government fostered a 
particular kind of economic development, namely, export-oriented 
industrialization dominated by a few enormous corporations. The 
success of this strategy was remarkable, and the trick was to make 
the industrialization process appear to be a national project with 
benefits that would accrue not just to the 'chaebôl' and wealthy 
individuals, but to the nation as a whole. The people were asked to 
make sacrifices, to work long hours for poor pay for un-elected 
governments that offered rewards to the rich, and to expect little 
for themselves. In fact, Nelson insists that the accomplishments of 
this period were motivated by a potent elixir of nationalism and hope 
that was widely held throughout the population. This nationalism 
always has an effect on consumption and the consumer in South Korea. 
As South Korean consumers encountered an increasingly complex market, 
they relied on their sense of identification with the nation. 
Consumers set themselves the larger task of making consumer choices 
that were in the best interests of the nation. In addition, the 
emphasis on an imagined future reunification of both Korea as the 
site of the real nation was also fuel for South Korean nationalism.

	In chapter 2, Nelson focuses on the city life of Seoul as a 
factor in the formation of national, class, and gendered identities. 
She shows that people's experience of Seoul as a place to live and 
the effects of the real estate market on people's lives are important 
points for consumer practices. That is, Seoul's physical changes 
mapped and mirrored South Korea's economic and social transformation. 
People constantly sought points of orientation in Seoul's ever 
changing space. The new shape of the city altered the terms of social 
interaction and created new foundations for the experience of class, 
gender, and nation.

	In chapter 3, the author looks in more detail at the 
interaction between local consumer patterns, drawing out the 
particularities of how consumers have been formed and how certain 
forms of consumption itself make the nation. She observed that the 
elaboration of the market and the culture of consumption in South 
Korea were rapid and pervasive. The material environment and the 
consumer culture demonstrated to South Koreans that the nation had 
been developed. Mass marketing generated an image of mass culture, 
mass consumption, and consumer equality. The author, however, 
indicated that consumer opportunities and choices were divergent in 
various ways, and through their experiences South Korean generated 
new views of the emergent consumer culture.

	In chapter 4, Nelson examines the discursive reaction, 
'kwasobi ch'ubang', to social and material changes, looking at how 
popular themes and government slogans intersect. The author asserts 
that appropriate consumption was a moral issue with a long history in 
South Korea. Especially, the author explores the discursive field of 
frugality and over-consumption, and examines the forms and sources of 
this discourse. While normal constructions of appropriate and 
patriotic consumption can be traced back to the pre-colonial period, 
in recent decades frugality has been represented as a strategy for 
national economic development, a moral practice of cultural 
preservation from the corruption of luxury and modernization, and a 
means of defending the nation from international shame and economic 
ruin. The author concludes that 'kwasobi' discourse in South Korea 
has explicitly tied individual lifestyles to the national destiny.

	In chapter 5, the author focuses on the ways in which gender 
and patriotism have become intertwined in the South Korean focus on 
consumer practices and choices, especially the 'kwasobi ch'ubang'. 
The author points to the variety of threats consumption poses to the 
sense of South Korean national unity and analyses South Korean 
women's social roles, consumption practices, and patriotism. Women in 
South Korea are actively engaged in the maintenance as well as the 
transformation of cultural ideas and practices. Women charged with 
enacting the ideals of proper consumer patriotism, found themselves 
on the front lines, facing the incongruities between the present and 
the past.

	In the final chapter, the author revisits these issues in the 
light of the Asian Crisis that began in 1997. The consumer 
nationalism in South Korea incurs the complexity of interrelations 
between state, nation, and community; between identities and 
ideologies; between localities and the globalized world. It is useful 
to bear in mind in how many different ways people in one locality can 
engage a discursive field, even one as pervasive as 'kwasobi'. The 
author concludes that in South Korea, political projects have been 
tied to the mobilization of a nationalistic material desire and the 
advocating of frugality. Ongoing contradictions between these 
positions were negotiated through a particularly gendered patriotism, 
where women were charged with making choices about how to carry out 
this program.

Bae, Mikyeong 2004
_Measured Excess: Status, Gender and Consumer Nationalism in South 
Korea_, by Laura Nelson (2000)
_Korean Studies Review_ 2004, no. 18
Electronic file: http://koreaweb.ws/ks/ksr/ksr04-18.htm
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