The Biopolitics of Beauty in the Age of Precarious Aesthetic Economies in South Korea

A/Prof. Jo Elfving-Hwang1

1The University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia

Theoretical work concerned beauty cultures has for a while been concerned with how beauty and the body intersect with both discursive and material domains of what constitutes the everyday “real”, as well the perceived material benefits of the biopolitics of beauty. In particular in the context of South Korea, the logic of investing in self through various technologies of the body has become a prominent feature not only in media and marketing narratives that aim to market normalised invasive and non-invasive beauty treatments to broader audiences, but also in the self-help literature on workplace and the presentation of self. These narratives of beauty tend to highlight perceived benefits of investing in self even when the actual tangible benefits of engaging with treatments, such as cosmetic surgery, are harder to measure. This presentation focuses in particular on outlining the ethics of beauty work as presented in professional narratives surrounding technologies of self (such as cosmetic surgery), and how the surgeons and beauty professionals simultaneously position themselves in relation to their patients as knowing subjects of ‘beneficial’ forms of surgery while positioning the bodies of their patients as sublimated objects of gaze in the emerging, yet precarious, aesthetic economies in South Korea.


Jo Elfving-Hwang is an Associate Professor of Korean Studies at the University of Western Australia. Her research focuses on beauty cultures, cosmetic surgery and cultural sociology of the body in South Korea.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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