Up-Scaling Resistance for Right to the City: Through the Case of South Korea's Tenant Shopkeepers' Organizing

Monday, 16 July 2018: 17:30
Oral Presentation
Yewon LEE, University of California at Los Angeles, USA
Can an anti-gentrification movement avoid the local trap and grow beyond the scale of a particular place-based alliance? I analyze how the context of South Korea enabled an anti-displacement organization to form a trans-local identity and organizational presence based on the precarious urban citizenship of the property-less. I conduct ethnographic research on a particular anti-gentrification movement that has gained increasing national visibility by tapping into a new base of urban constituents: tenant shop-owners who are facing eviction from their shops. By focusing on urban spaces not only as places of living but also as places of making a livelihood, I cast the limelight on how hyper-urbanization creates a condition that brings together a wider set of socio-economic classes when the lack of ownership rights becomes a source of dispossession, exploitation, and enduring inequality. Conventionally, the tenant shop-owners as a group are considered privileged due to their autonomous, self-employed status and are thought to be shielded from the deteriorating conditions of low-skilled working-class wageworkers. However, contrary to this perception, in the face of gentrification pressure, this apparent security is more tenuous. By analyzing the contested grounds on which the tenant shopkeepers frame their right to the city, I examine how the infusion of new movement subjects creates a space to experiment with and debate an alternative vision of a just distribution of rights to the city. I also critically examine how certain ways of framing urban citizenship and deservingness can inadvertently exclude urban dwellers and even member tenants with less social and cultural capital. By filling a theoretical and empirical gap in the gentrification literature on a certain overlooked urban space-based precarity, I contribute to identifying the multiple pathways to fulfilling the vision of the right to the city and explore and scrutinize the “actually existing” resistances along these paths.