Neoliberalism Meets “Gangnam Style”: Vernacular Private Sector and Large Urban Developments in Seoul

Open Access Journal | ISSN: 2183-7635

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Neoliberalism Meets “Gangnam Style”: Vernacular Private Sector and Large Urban Developments in Seoul

  • Jinhee Park Independent Researcher, South Korea

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Abstract:  Globalised neoliberalism does not unify urbanisation processes but rather varies according to local contexts. This article explores the unique neoliberalisation process in large urban developments that have contributed to Seoul becoming a global city. Not only has the formal process of privatisation been important but also the vernacular practice of the ordinary people has informally grown during the process. By establishing a matured market of the mass production and consumption of high-rise apartments since the 1970s, more than half of the housing stock is now composed of high-rise apartments in South Korea. Gangnam represents the wealthiest district shifting from rural sites to highly dense urban areas due to their large-scale high-rise developments. Not only have societal changes made way for super-high-density apartment complexes as a rational response to population and economic growth, high-rise developments have also allowed Seoul to grow its population and expand its spatial footprint. Because of the dominance of universal western knowledge, this phenomenon has not been fully understood. While neoliberalism has been broadly adopted, the actual development process in Korea is distinctive not only from the West but also the East. The article argues that ‘vernacular neoliberalism’ has evolved not just by the formality of the ideological market system but also by the informality of survival practices of Korean lives largely under the colonial period and the aftermath of the Korean War. It particularly shows how large urban developments have been widespread by integrating a vernacular private rental system called chonsei into the formal structure.

Keywords:  Asian cities; chonsei; housing policy; Korea; neoliberalism; Seoul; urban redevelopment



© Jinhee Park. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.