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Prentice, Michael Morgan

Grant Type: 
Dissertation Fieldwork Grant
Insitutional Affiliation: 
Michigan, Ann Arbor, U. of
Status: 
Active Grant
Approve Date: 
April 17, 2013
Project Title: 
Prentice, Michael Morgan, U. of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI - To aid research on 'Restructuring Corporations From Below: The Re-emergence of Hierarchy among South Korea's Conglomerates,' supervised by Dr. Matthew Hull

Preliminary abstract: In the wake of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis in Korea, IMF restructuring led to major economic and social overhauls across Korean society, including reforms to corporate governance among the country's infamous conglomerates. Subsequent restructuring was meant to root out the cronyistic and personalistic practices of the past and implement new models of transparency, accountability and efficiency suitable for global competition. This project explores how Korean office cultures and work practices have changed in the years since, especially as post-IMF reforms have become institutionalized. I look at this phenomenon through the particular lens of changes in Korea's military-like hierarchy system, long a symbol of corporate paternalism. Numerous conglomerates have sought to transform hierarchical divisions along egalitarian lines, from 'flat' organizational structures to equalized terms of address. My project takes an interactional approach to understand why and how office workers might resist efforts to make workplaces more equal. In fourteen months of Wenner-Gren-funded fieldwork in Seoul, South Korea, I will explore the plethora of institutional policies across South Korea's sixty conglomerates and observe how they are taken up in practice, especially across new modes of digital communication. I hypothesize that as 'flat' relations become implemented, Korean office workers may seek asymmetrical relations with other co-workers to cultivate a social insurance in a turbulent labor market. This project will elucidate broader anthropological concerns for social mobility, capitalist organization and the language of hierarchy.