Gendering discourses of time in South Korean self-help books : The normalisation of a masculine long hours work culture

Chekar, Choon Key (2008) Gendering discourses of time in South Korean self-help books : The normalisation of a masculine long hours work culture. PhD thesis, Cardiff University.

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This thesis is based on a three-fold project analysing, firstly, the discursive configuration of popular Korean time management texts, secondly, the parameters of their production and political economy, and, finally, their audience reception. Three time management self-help books that encourage using time outside of regular working hours for self-development were selected and analysed for this thesis. To explore the audience’s reception of these texts, this was complemented by examining a number of book reviews from the three biggest online booksellers’ websites in Korea and one-to-one, face-to-face or online interviews were conducted with readers of these self-help texts. I highlight how the three time management books examined in this thesis fail to address significant issues related to gender and class difference amongst employees. This is particular marked with regard to female workers who often have greater domestic responsibilities than most men but who are still expected to do the same job at work. The advice in these books may also be problematic for many men too. This is because they are expected to fulfil the ideal of a neo-liberalist worker who pursues his lifelong ‘career’ by devoting even more of his time often with the aim of simply maintaining his current job. Thus, such texts rule out the possibility of achieving at work/life balance for both women and men. I place my findings in the broader socio-economic context. The issue of time management has become a complex one in South Korea partly as a result of the Asian Debt Crisis of 1997. The crisis brought about a wide-range of economic, social and cultural changes. Self-motivational literature, which had not been familiar to most Koreans until the post-crisis period, has deeply influenced Korean society. The spread of self-help products and services has been promoted by the self-help industry and by corporate managers who want to deliver their managerial ideology in an unobtrusive way. Finding shows it is not entirely true that most self-help readers are desperately looking for solutions to time management problems and are thus eager to accept self-help advice. Rather, many keep an ideological distance from these texts and will criticise them for a failure to acknowledge the gap between the advice they offer and the realities of everyday life. For many ordinary employees, self-help reading is a passive way of self-management they can afford and about which they made to feel more secure because these books enable a feeling of not being left behind by the social demand for self-development. Despite reader criticism, self-help books are still regarded as important, primarily because an increasing number of people appear to be willingly consuming them. Whether or not they strongly believe in the message of self-help in these texts, a growing number of readers consume and reproduce the capitalist work ethic which underlies their advice. The thesis concludes that even though the individual self-help texts have not been well received by white-collar readers, the widely accepted imperative of self-development could be still powerful. The prevailing culture of self-help reading also plays an important role not only in what we read but also in how we read. I conclude that the popularity of the self-help book as a genre reflects that individualistic bourgeois ideology and that the emphasis on material success has gained narrative power over ordinary workers.

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Thesis (PhD)
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06 Apr 2021 09:15
Last Modified:
28 Nov 2023 10:53