Author ORCID Identifier

Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Arts and Sciences



First Advisor

Dr. Richard Schein


Gentrification has been extensively studied beyond Euro-American societies. In particular, previous research of Seoul’s residential gentrification has broadened our understanding of the role of the developmental state and property speculation in urban clearance and renewal. However, little attention has been paid to the contemporary retail gentrification in Seoul that has different aesthetics, subjectivities, and rhythms compared to residential gentrification. In retail gentrification, old urban neighborhoods are no longer demolished but cherished with their nostalgic landscapes and atmospheres. In this context, this dissertation project explores Seochon, a gentrifying neighborhood in Seoul, that was designated as a cultural heritage site in 2010. Since then, this previously underdeveloped neighborhood has become a famous tourist destination for urban adventurers who desire authentic objects, places, and experiences.

Combining ethnographic and archival research, this project examines how the cultural politics around authenticity entwine with historic preservation and retail gentrification. Specifically, I address three questions: 1) how the hyperreal simulacra of the past aesthetically assemble Seochon as an authentic urban village, 2) how the fantasy of authenticity endlessly renews the desire for something more authentic while sustaining the paradoxical subjectivities of gentrification, and 3) how the in-betweens on the topological edge of the gentrifier/gentrified embody and enact gentrification in and through the heterogeneous space-times of Seochon. Consequently, the project opens new political possibilities to challenge gentrification-induced displacements by demystifying their physical and psychological processes.

In doing so, this project contributes to more nuanced perspectives on Seoul’s gentrification, which has been predominantly identified with state-led, residential urban renewal. At the same time, the project engages with epistemological and ontological limitations in previous gentrification studies through the poststructural lenses of Baudrillard, Lacan, and Deleuze. Specifically, I dismantle the dualistic ideas of good/bad, authentic/inauthentic, and gentrifier/gentrified by analyzing the ever-changing rhythms of gentrification and displacement. Indeed, the paradoxical subjects of gentrification continue to decenter their subjectivities and distort the dynamics of displacement. Thus, they are virtually/actually in-betweens as they become gentrifier and simultaneously gentrified (gentrifier/d). This reconceptualization of ambivalent and mobile subjectivities highlights differences within and beyond the monstrously imagined gentrification while disclosing the potential for the fight against it from its sponge-like inside.

Furthermore, this project empirically demonstrates this theoretical reframing based on 13 months of qualitative fieldwork and 47 interviews with 50 participants. I illustrate how the subjects of gentrification place themselves in Seochon by reinventing authenticity and displacing their imagined (in)authentic selves/others. Throughout various cultural politics around what authentic Seochon is, the subjects were ‘becoming gentrifier/d.’ I was one of them as I occupied everyday spaces of the neighborhood, interviewed old-timers and newcomers, participated in a local foodie community, and worked at a hipster-oriented restaurant as a server. Drawing on this autoethnography, the project uncovers the fantasy of authenticity as well as the heterogeneous space-times of gentrification, which are built upon people’s desires, imaginations, embodiments, and performances, including my own. Ultimately, this theoretical and empirical revisit enables us to mirror ourselves onto gentrification and to bear our responsibility in challenging the gentrification-induced displacements that we create.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Barnhardt and Withington Research Funds from the Department of Geography, University of Kentucky in Fall 2017