Theses Doctoral

The Social Life of Human Capital: The Rise of Social Economy, Entrepreneurial Subject, and Neosocial Government in South Korea

Lee, Seung Cheol

This dissertation explores the rise of social economy in South Korea, in order to understand the transformations of sociality, ethicality, and subjectivity in the contemporary capitalism. In the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis, we have witnessed “the return of the social” through introduction of various socio-economic projects—such as social economy, social innovation, and social entrepreneurship—that aim to graft morality and sociality onto the market. In the last decade, South Korea’s social economy sector has also grown quickly with the active support and promotion by the government, representing a new model of development as well as a feasible solution to reproduction crisis. This rapid growth has generated public and academic debates over whether the returned “socials” are the seeds of post-neoliberalism or just an ideological cloak for the expansion of market rationality. Based on ethnographic research on the social economy sector in Seoul, this dissertation focuses on an often-neglected question in these debates: what forms of the social imaginary, knowledge, subjectivity, and ethicality have emerged in the new “socials” as a result of the imbrication of moral aspirations with the neoliberal human condition?

To address the question, I first demonstrate how contemporary neoliberalism presupposes a new form of homo œconomicus, human capital, who is expected to manage all the aspects of life within a single value frame, acting as a “portfolio manager.” As the new subjectivity incorporates non-economic elements—including social logics and moral orientations—as assets that can be translated into economic value, the responsibilities for society and the construction of social bonds are directly devolved on the new economic subjects. This dissertation goes on to show how the financial logic of human capital has conditioned and created a new sociality and ethicality. In examining the various fields from community development through the social care market to fair trade activism, I trace how community, care, affective labor, and ethical practices have been intermingled and articulated with the new form of economic rationality and have contributed to the economization of sociality and ethicality. Notions such as “enterprization of community,” “projective ethicality,” “affective labor (hwaldong),” and “marketized gift-exchange” are discussed to flesh out the transformation and articulation more clearly. Finally, this thesis conceptualizes the dynamics of the new subjectivity, ethicality, and social imaginary in terms of “neosocial government,” in which the crisis of the neoliberal human capital regime is managed and addressed through social ties based on care, affective labor, and gift. In unveiling how the new governing rationality prioritizes and reifies intimate social bonds over political engagement and structural transformation, this dissertation not only illuminates the depoliticized aspects of the newly returned socials but also highlights the necessity of reinventing a universal vision of politics upon which the broken link between social solidarity and politics can be restored.

Geographic Areas


  • thumnail for Lee_columbia_0054D_14481.pdf Lee_columbia_0054D_14481.pdf application/pdf 2.31 MB Download File

More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Povinelli, Elizabeth A.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 24, 2018