Appointed As

History, Anthropology, and Science, Technology, and Society


ACLS Emerging Voices Fellowships program


Massachusetts Institute of Technology

PhD Field of Study

PhD, Communications and Media, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Dissertation Abstract

"Remapping Songdo: A Genealogy of a Smart City in South Korea"

"Remapping Songdo: A genealogy of a smart city in South Korea"
This dissertation addresses the relationship between history, culture, technology, and urban governance in South Korea. It focuses on the technologies and techniques of making and governing “smart” cities and argues that they have been shaped by the long-term concerns for security, development, and globalization in the region. New Songdo City in South Korea, one of the first smart cities in the world, is a prime example that shows how multiple strings of history shape locally variant responses to deployments of “smart” urban technologies, such as networked cameras and sensors. Contrary to the common responses to digital surveillance in the West, Koreans adapted to the rapid changes of digitalization and perceived the smart technologies to be safely “watching over” them. This dissertation explains that such different response results from multiple historical and sociocultural factors, including differing cultural norms of privacy, ongoing context of Cold War, national security policy, nationalist aspiration for technology-driven development, and the export-oriented industrial model established since the 1960s. Through multiple contextualizations, this dissertation provides a counterpoint to the proliferating narratives that ascribe a universal value to the smart cities and offers a deep cultural account of “developmental mentality” that characterizes Korea’s unique approach to the smart cities. The dissertation approaches the field of communication and media studies in two differing ways. First, it takes a socio-material and contextual approach to the smart cities and offers a pluralized way of thinking about the relationship between media and space. Second, it takes a genealogical approach to provide a critique in the form of “history of the present” and addressees the problem of power in relation to the production of knowledge and subjecthood. Following a brief review of South Korean history of urban planning and militarization (1961-1987) in Chapter 1, different dimensions of the smart cities are addressed in separate chapters – Mobility (Chapter 2), Security (Chapter 3), Environment (Chapter 4), and Enterprise (Chapter 5) – that are connected to specific genealogies. It analyzes the significance of the smart cities with respect to the earlier models of national and urban governance in South Korea and discusses how the complex history entangled in today’s smart city, as a discourse and a material reality, guides how a desirable future is envisioned and imagined in South Korea.