The Social Semiotics of Aspiration in Seoul

The Social Semiotics of Aspiration in Seoul

Nicholas Harkness (Assistant Professor, Harvard University)


This project considers the intersection of urban aspiration and religion in terms of communicative interaction in Seoul. Drawing on ethnographic research to be conducted among South Korean Christians, I will explore how ideologies of ethnonational advancement and spiritual enlightenment are shaped by a practical engagement with the city and its religious life. Part of this practical engagement involves coordinating the movement between physical urban spaces with the ongoing orientation to social spaces and their ritual centers. The investigation will explore how semiotic differentiation in communicative interaction relates to the cultural model of social transformation: from poor to rich, from unhealthy to healthy, from superstitious to enlightened, from suffering to joyful, and from dirty to clean. The research will focus on the way such semiotic differentiation within ideologies of Christian advancement meets the differentiation and evaluation of physical and social spaces of Seoul.