Burdens of health club going : Imagine body and self, self development strategy in South Korea

TitleBurdens of health club going : Imagine body and self, self development strategy in South Korea
Publication TypeConference Paper
Author(s)Lee, S., J. Kim, C. Park, and S. Lee
Affiliation (1st Author)Doctoral Candidate, Dept. of Communication, Seoul National University.
Section or WGEmerging Scholars Network Section
DateSat 29 June
Slot CodeESNS3a
Slot Code (Keyword)ESNS3a
Time of Session14:00-15:30
RoomHG07
Session TitleCommunication and Behavior
Submission ID6184
Abstract

An employee finished working overtime heads to a 24 hour health club in a rush and spends his night time working out there. This has recently become a familiar scene among Korean employees. Bearing the longest working hours of any industrialized country’s labor force (according to the OECD report in 2011), why do young Korean employees willingly take on such a burden of going to a health club, albeit feeling it is onerous and the price prohibitive? Regarding working out, weight training/ bodybuilding, and the meaning of these practices, most previous studies were mainly rooted in either analysis on discourses around working out presented in the media and its effect on the agents/audience – their reception and resistance, or theoretical accounts of the construction of self-identity, especially focusing on gendered identity through body building. Far from both approaches, this study, focusing upon the subjectivity, highlights how health club-going as apparatus(dispositif), establishes or interposes the relation between subjects and their bodies. In doing so, this study drew on the data collected from in-depth interviews with serious bodybuilders, focus group interviews with health club goers, participatory observation, and historical discourse analysis. The respondents tended to identify their health club-going as self-improvement, regardless of whether they achieved visible physical advancement through working out. They experienced the feeling that they controlled their bodies and were able to imagine managing themselves. This is because of ‘commensuration’, the distinctive technology of weight training, which understands and evaluates the human body as its divided and quantified components. At this point, it is required to pay attention to the trend of ‘self- development’ of the late 1990s and 2000s in Korean society, wherein ‘going to the health club’ has come to be a cumbersome duty rather than an enjoyable activity. Whilst neoliberal economic adjustment has driven people to the severely competitive and ferocious work environment, including labor flexibility, since the financial crisis in 1997, the ‘self-development’ trend has emerged as the predominant strategy to maintain self-esteem and combat the fear of losing job security. ‘Going to the health club’, under this circumstance, has turned out to be the most popular practice of ‘self development’. This study suggests that while ‘health club going’, in Korean society, is actively adopted and appropriated by subjects living in the neoliberal era, it acts as a mechanism that objectifies and capitalizes bodies that can be managed and developed.

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