Kangnam style and the Korean spirit of capitalism: exercising bodies at a South Korean shipyard in Subic Bay (Philippines)
Elisabeth Schober (University of Oslo)
Paper short abstract:
This paper looks into the bodily relations formed during daily morning exercises at a South Korean shipyard in Subic Bay (Phil.), where Korean foremen make their workers do gymnastics to “Kangnam Style” in an attempt to inculcate a Korean kind of work ethic into a seemingly reluctant Filipino workforce.
Paper long abstract:
Offshoring is an economic practice that allows globally operating businesses to profit directly from differing labor costs in various regions of the world. Clearly contributing to the rise of precariousness amongst workers, the offshoring of manufacturing processes may also entail extended and contentious encounters between foreign management and local laborers at the shop floor that are worth exploring. This paper will look into the complex relations established during daily morning exercises at a South Korean shipyard in Subic Bay (Philippines), where Korean foremen make their Filipino workforce do gymnastics while listening to Psy's "Kangnam Style". Initially, a militaristic tune from the Park Chung Hee-era called "Chal Sarabose" - which glorified hard labor in the years before Korea's economic take-off - served as the main soundtrack during these daily routines. But the global hit of "Kangnam Style" - a mocking ode to 21st century casino capitalism - proved to be infinitely more successful with the Filipino workers. I will argue that these joint practices serve a key purpose: through the physical and affective manoeuvre of dancing to Psy, the attempt is made to inculcate a Korean kind of work ethic into a seemingly reluctant Filipino workforce. While loyalty to the foreign shipbuilder is an elusive good in an environment of highly unstable labor conditions, these daily routines may have been designed to make the Korean spirit of capitalism tangible to Filipino workers, who in turn fill these Korean promises of prosperity with their own (at times rather diverging) visions of the good life that is to be attained.
The uncertain bodily relations of contemporary economic practice