The Precariat That Can Speak The Politics of Encounters between the Educated Youth and the Urban Poor in Seoul

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In this article, I explore how different groups of the precariat endure and struggle with specific and hierarchical forms of precarity in Seoul. By paying attention to which precarity matters, and to whom it belongs, I examine the friction between the educated youth—the “deserving” precariat that can speak—and the urban poor, who endure abandonment. This collaborative project, in which university students encountered welfare recipients and homeless people through interviews with antipoverty activists, unveils the complex reality that one group’s attempt to react to their precarity risks marginalizing or exacerbating the precarity faced by another group. The affective discourses of fairness and security, which are often embodied and fetishized by precarious youth who are struggling to survive, turn out to have fostered a deeper marginalization and criminalization of the urban poor. Instead of reducing this finding to a critique of the differential distribution of precarity, I reposition my ethnography as an experimental and pedagogical project, in which an anthropologist’s “field” is created with the expansion of research inquiries, findings, reflections, and actions. As such, ethnography serves as a kind of activism to connect the bounded circles of the precariat and demonstrate new predicaments and possibilities in an open-ended manner.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-518
Number of pages28
JournalCurrent Anthropology
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Oct

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. All rights reserved.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Archaeology
  • Anthropology
  • Archaeology


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