Date of Degree

6-2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Ph.D.

Program

Sociology

Advisor(s)

Sharon Zukin

Committee Members

Richard Alba

Philip Kasinitz

Margaret M. Chin

Subject Categories

Sociology

Keywords

nation branding, ethnic consumption, ethnic enclaves, transnationalism

Abstract

Over the past decade, Koreatown in Midtown Manhattan has drawn both Koreans and non-Koreans seeking everything Korean, from day spas to nightlife; Koreatown attracts locals and tourists alike, who see the area as an exotic place to consume authentic, yet modern, Korean culture. This dissertation investigates how South Korea’s nation-branding strategy and cultural policies, together with socio-cultural and urban changes and New York City’s tourism policies, have shaped the development of Manhattan’s Koreatown into a new type of ethnic enclave, a space for “Seoul-style” consumption. The space has received intensive investment by the Korean government, cultivating it as an entertainment space as an opportunity for nation branding and promotion of Korean culture and products overseas in order to bolster the economy after the financial crisis of 1997.

New York City is one of the most critical global markets in nation-branding projects, and the landscape of Koreatown in Manhattan reflects the flow of and investment in new cultural and economic policies. Because cultural products from a sending country are often placed in traditional ethnic enclaves, the new branding policies mobilize different types of business owners to create a new type of ethnic space, which I call a “transclave.” In this dissertation, I define “transclave” as a commercialized ethnic space that exists exclusively for consumption, leisure, and entertainment; it is a space where transnational consumer culture from a sending country is embedded within a physical space in a receiving society, reflecting the landscape of the sending country’s consumer culture through the physical appearance of buildings and stores, and the inclusion of franchise brands. It becomes a cultural platform for the Korean government and relatively small Korean corporations to market the nation and its brands for both economic and political benefits.

This dissertation is based on multi-layered research based on archival research, participant observation, and in-depth interviews with 111 individuals, including three consumer groups (Korean nationals, Korean Americans and non-Koreans), business owners, and officials working in Korean organizations in both Seoul and New York City. This dissertation begins with an historical analysis of nation branding in South Korea in the post-1997-financial-crisis era and Korea’s branding policies’ influence on Manhattan’s Koreatown, coupled with the role of transnational entrepreneurs as cultural transmitters. I highlight how and why these policies encouraged different types of business owners to create a consumer-based transclave.

I also analyze transnationalism from below by looking at the consumer patterns of various groups, including Korean nationals, Korean Americans, and non-Koreans. Korean nationals’ interaction in and use of Koreatown reflects a form of public diplomacy, a way of creating positive images of the nation and introducing contemporary Korean culture, such as Korean pop culture and food and entertainment, to New York’s consumption scene. Yet Korean Americans’ ethnic consumption in Koreatown is mainly symbolic; it is an effective tool with which they build both a transnational cultural identity through cultural products, and a sense of belonging through cultural consumption and entertainment, a practice previously limited to the private realm of the home and family. For non-Koreans who have never traveled to Korea, Koreatown is a local place where Korean culture and food are easily accessed for consumption; the growing popularity of Korean food and culture among this group highlights individuals’ responses to the globalization of ethnic food and contextualizing of the growing popularity of Korean food within a move from snobbishness to omnivorousness; non-Koreans increasingly approach Korean culture, and food in particular, with curiosity rather than up-turned noses, a result of an outgrowth of ethnic revival and consumerism that markets ethnicity in the U.S.

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