Society for East Asian Anthropology
Anthropology And Environment Society
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
The paper explores how “new house syndrome,” or saejibjeunghugun, has become public knowledge and an urban phenomenon in the Seoul Capital Area. Globally, “sick building syndrome” refers to a perceived threat that deteriorating buildings or poorly managed facilities, (often workplaces) may pose to their occupants. In Korea, the concept refers to the same set of symptoms found in cases worldwide, including itchy eyes, rashes, aches, sensitivity to odors, and fatigue, but peculiarly, focuses on “new” “residential” buildings, especially those in highly concentrated condominium complexes. While medical and engineering specialists posit the chemical substances in new residential buildings remain below general standards and the perceived symptoms are minimal, the "fear" of chemical exposure in new buildings has intensified and manifested in the form of proliferating practices to filter out the toxicities. Given this, the paper examines “home remedies,” government ordinances, and new enterprises offering toxicity removal services to argue that it is through these processes generated by widespread fear that the new house syndrome is “made to matter.” In doing so, the paper situates the phenomenon within the particular social and historical context of Seoul, including the collective memories of the city’s rapid urbanization and developmentalism, intensified real estate speculation and construction, the cultural and spatial mode of residence, and the relationship between civil society and the state.