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Stitching the Fabric of Family: Time, Work, and Intimacy in Seoul's Tongdaemun Market

From: Journal of Korean Studies
Volume 17, Number 2, Fall 2012
pp. 383-406 | 10.1353/jks.2012.0023



This article explores how the construction of intimacy in the intertwined home, factory, and market materializes the rapid garment production and circulation of garments in Seoul's Tongdaemun (East Gate) Market. A massive cluster of garment manufacturing factories, wholesale markets, and retail malls in central Seoul, Tongdaemun has undergone an uneven transition to a 24-7, energetic, shopping and entertainment district that has fostered a sense of swift social transformation. The author investigated ethnographically the embodied experiences and social relationships of manufacturing workers, designers, and entrepreneurs in Tongdaemun, witnessing and experiencing their fast-paced daily lives and labor. This labor engages siblings, friends, and colleagues alongside and within the interwoven spaces of home, home-factories, and markets. The author argues that intimacy and the market are coproduced and mobilize one another, and that this process makes the fast pace and viability of Tongdaemun Market possible. By focusing on the history of this urban market as it weaves the personal histories of the individuals who have simultaneously nurtured and sustained their intimate relationships and their work, the author challenges the notion of intimate relationships and family as bounded social units that precede the economy.

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