Flower of Capitalism: South Korean Advertising at a Crossroads

Hardback: $68.00
ISBN-13: 9780824890346
Published: July 2022
Paperback: $28.00
ISBN-13: 9780824893248
Published: April 2023

Additional Information

298 pages | 7 b&w illustrations
  • About the Book
  • An ethnography of advertising in postmillennial South Korea, Flower of Capitalism: South Korean Advertising at a Crossroads details contests over advertising freedoms and obligations among divergent vested interests while positing far-reaching questions about the social contract that governs advertising in late-capitalist societies. The term “flower of capitalism” is a clichéd metaphor for advertising in South Korea, bringing resolutely positive connotations, which downplay the commercial purposes of advertising and give prominence to its potential for public service. Historically, South Korean advertising was tasked to promote virtue with its messages, while allocation of advertising expenditures among the mass media was monitored and regulated to curb advertisers’ influence in the name of public interest. Though this ideal was often sacrificed to situational considerations, South Korean advertising had been remarkably accountable to public scrutiny and popular demands.

    This beneficent role of advertising, however, came under attack as a neoliberal hegemony consolidated in South Korea in the twenty-first century. Flower of Capitalism examines the clash of advertising’s old obligations and new freedoms, as it was navigated by advertising practitioners, censors, audiences, and activists. It weaves together a rich multi-sited ethnography—at an advertising agency and at an advertising censorship board—with an in-depth exploration of advertising-related controversies—from provocative advertising campaigns to advertising boycotts. Advertising emerges as a contested social institution whose connections to business, mass media, and government are continuously tested and revised.

    Olga Fedorenko challenges the mainstream notions of advertising, which universalize the ways it developed in Transatlantic countries, and offers a glimpse of what advertising could look like if its public effects were taken as seriously as its marketing goals. A critical and innovative intervention into the studies of advertising, Flower of Capitalism breaks new ground in current debates on the intersection of media, culture, and politics.

  • About the Author(s)
    • Olga Fedorenko, Author

      Olga Fedorenko is associate professor of anthropology at Seoul National University.
  • Reviews and Endorsements
    • In Flower of Capitalism, Olga Fedorenko offers a multisited ethnography of South Korean advertising. Against scholarly approaches that universalize the function of advertising as a predictable element of capitalism, she insists on the historical and situational specificity of advertising’s role and function, and the social expectations placed upon it, in different contexts.
      —Robert M. Oppenheim, The University of Texas at Austin
    • South Korea evinced a precocious interest in noncommercial and public service advertising: in the wake of its devastating war, the market became the medium of all public communication partly because preexisting social ties were so badly ruptured. Fedorenko offers us a compelling catalogue both of how advertising takes shape and how it is interpreted in the militarized modernity of post–Cold War South Korea.
      —Arvind Rajagopal, New York University