This article explores community in contemporary South Korea's commercially saturated urban environments by investigating a recent government-run city improvement project in which the entanglement of institutional power and local commercial forces created a peculiar form of community that is fragmentary and heterogeneous rather than organic and harmonious. The case study involves an attempt by the city government in Gunpo City, South Korea, to collaborate with private enterprise to regulate the dense signage on one specific commercial building, Kwangrim Plaza. The meetings and conversations between the government officials in charge of regulating urban signage and the plaza's forty-five shopkeepers were recorded in a four-part documentary series that was televised on the Seoul Broadcasting System in 2007. The documentary was intended to exemplify the government's effectiveness as well as civic participation in producing an attractive cityscape. Though the film emphasizes reconciliation and synthesis following the shopkeepers' strenuous objections to the renovation project, its scenes reveal a series of conflicts and disagreements among shopkeepers and between shopkeepers and government officials. Though the narrative of the film treats those conflicts as temporary obstacles to the inevitable achievement of this ambitious project, the author argues that interruptions, suspensions, and instances of dissensus in the smooth narrative are the critical moments in which a sense of community manifests itself in everyday urban life.
Seunghan Paek; An Inoperative Community: Senses of Community and the Signboard Renovation Project of Kwangrim Plaza in Contemporary South Korea. positions 1 November 2017; 25 (4): 717–743. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/10679847-4188386
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