Accepted Paper:

100,000 won friends: calculating gifts and debts among dear friends in South Korean institutional network  


You Kyung Byun (Free University of Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

What are the processes of which money (formality) transforms into gift (informality)? Pujogŭm, monetary gift in Korean, shows both monetary and gift characters. Money is social good and ultimately strenghens mutual dependencies of individuals in the society.

Paper long abstract:

Money, as a symbol for rational calculation, is often contrary to the concept of gift. However, monetary gift, pujogŭm in Korean, is conventionally exchanged between relatives, friends, and colleagues in contemporary South Korea. What are the processes of which money (formality) transforms into gift (informality)? Based on ethnographic fieldwork in the wedding and funeral ceremonies in Seoul, findings indicate that collective giving practice and formation of homogeneous groups facilitate this transformation. Historically, Korea was a peasant society in support of self-help and safety-first principles (J. Scott 1976). As the country underwent rapid industrialization since the 1960's, practices in rural societies experienced substantial changes. However, certain types of informal economy continue in market-structured society as well, but in a transformed form. For instance, reciprocal monetary exchanges occur in modern funeral and wedding ceremonies instead of material contribution, as observed prior to industrialization. Pujogŭm practice implies morality and emotions similar to gift exchange. On the other hand, calculation of sum, charge and discharge of debt demonstrate the monetary character of pujogŭm. Moreover, relationships can be broken due to unpaid debt. Despite these contradictory aspects, money plays an important role in keeping the members of a group together. In this sense, money is a sort of social goods and ultimately strengthens mutual dependencies of individuals in the society.

Panel P148
Ethnographic explorations of formal–informal linkages in contemporary global economy and politics