Current Institutional Affiliation
Assistant Professor, Anthropology, Seoul National University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
Anthropology, Columbia University
Financialized Ethics: Governing Individual Bankruptcy in South Korea

In the wake of the 1997 financial crisis, South Korea quickly moved from being a nation of notoriously high savers to a country with one of the highest ratios of household debt to disposable income. By illuminating this process in the context of financial neoliberalization and the fall of the developmental state, my project will explore South Korea's governance of personal bankruptcy in order to understand the profound transformations in social, subjective, and ethical life that have attended and underwritten this transition. By excavating multi-layered and even contradictory features of neoliberalization, my research will examine the emergence of new forms of governing power that now surround bankrupt individuals, which can be called "financialized ethics" or "moral neoliberalism" based on the grafting of ethics onto economy. First, my research will trace how individual bankruptcy is problematized as a "moral/ethical" issue and thus how the bankrupt are constructed as objects of "moral" government. Second, I will investigate how the bankrupt are trained and disciplined to embody the ideal of "ethical entrepreneurship" during the rehabilitation process. Third, this project examines how present-day governing practices produce depoliticized effects by mobilizing morality as the antidote to a crisis that requires political/economic solutions. As it achieves these goals, my research will challenge the conventional understanding of neoliberalism that equates it with the domination of market and calculative rationality and instead illuminate how new forms of ethicality and sociality are intrinsically linked to the intensification of financial neoliberalism.