Soh Jaipil Lecture Series - Fighting Evictions in the Speculative City: The Politics of Class and Solidarity for Tenant Shopkeepers in Seoul

The Politics of Class and Solidarity for Tenant Shopkeepers in Seoul
The Politics of Class and Solidarity for Tenant Shopkeepers in Seoul

Event Description

Tenant shopkeepers are micro-entrepreneurs, or petit bourgeoisie, and as such are often dismissively labeled as unrevolutionary, reactionary, and individualistic. However, I analyze the new class politics forming among tenant shopkeepers when the urban spaces that they depend on to eke out a living are increasingly captured as investment commodities, resulting in rent hikes and evictions for tenant shopkeepers. My in-depth ethnographic research within the greater metropolitan area of Seoul reveals how tenant shopkeepers come to embrace a class politics that aligns their interests with those of various other precariats in the city while demanding recognition of the value created through their “work.” In this talk, I argue that the collective politics of tenant shopkeepers are shaped by three interrelated forces: 1) the expropriation of their sweat equity in real estate speculation, 2) the spatial politics of occupying livelihood spaces, and 3) the role of social movement alliances in forging broad-based solidarity. Understanding the path to generating new class politics among tenant shopkeepers is crucial for understanding new alliances and the making of agents of social change who can forge a credible challenge to the interests of the powerful property-owning class, or the rentier class. As speculation on urban real estate is intensifying all around the increasingly urbanizing world, there is much to be gained from exploring and evaluating South Korea’s case of building what scholars have coined “cities for people, not for profit.”



Yewon Andrea Lee, Assistant Research Professor of International Affairs & Postdoctoral Fellow, GW Institute for Korean Studies


Roy Richard Grinker, Professor of Anthropology, International Affairs, and Human Sciences, George Washington University


Sponsored by GW Institute for Korean Studies