The rise of ‘Gangnam style’

The rise of ‘Gangnam style’


Written by:

Myungji Yang

First Published:

09 Feb 2018, 12:00 am

The rise of ‘Gangnam style’

The rise of ‘Gangnam style’: Manufacturing the urban middle class in Seoul, 1976–1996

A new paper by Myungji Yang is now available online



Focusing on the case of urban development in Gangnam, this article explores how middle-class identity based on residence in apartment complexes was created in South Korea beginning in the late 1970s. I argue that state policy, speculation, and exclusion were key ingredients in the making of the middle class in Gangnam. Many white-collar families became apartment owners through a government-subsidised apartment lottery programme, and subsequently climbed the economic ladder more rapidly than others because of skyrocketing housing prices. Their rise to middle-class status, facilitated by chance and furthered by their willingness to engage in real estate speculation, was seen by many as illegitimate. In the face of scepticism about their status, Gangnam residents strived to cultivate cultured, modernised, and Westernised middle-class lifestyles so as to distinguish themselves from non-Gangnam residents and justify their economic success. This paper emphasises the dialectical process – both top-down and bottom-up – of middle class formation during the Gangnam boom. Based on a year of field research conducted in Korea, I analyse the lives and experiences of the middle class and their strategies for upward social mobility in the housing market.


Read the full paper here