The financial crisis of 1997 and the concomitant economic recession have transformed South Korean society at breakneck speed. Highly motivated and adventurous youth, whom the media called the “new generation,” played a crucial role in revitalizing the economy. The state and industry invested in their initiatives out of concern for future economic development. By the late 2000s, however, a new neoliberal youth subject came to dominate South Korea. Having internalized the ruthless competition on the labor market, these young people centered their lives on building “specs” (specifications) in order to increase their marketability. This article argues that the state and the family joined forces in order to help young people accept the deregulation of the labor market. While the state established an education market, parents (especially “manager moms”) contributed to the development of this market by encouraging their children to accumulate specs. A prominent effect of these changes was that young people grew to become “kidults” in cases in which their parents had the means to continue supporting them into adulthood. If that was not the case, they were left to care for themselves. Whereas the former group adapted to the cutthroat competition, the latter accepted disenfranchisement. This article concludes by considering what politics these young people might develop that would enable them to combat their ever-decreasing chances of becoming self-sustaining adults.
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Cho Hae-joang; The Spec Generation Who Can't Say “No”: Overeducated and Underemployed Youth in Contemporary South Korea. positions 1 August 2015; 23 (3): 437–462. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-3125823
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