Society for East Asian Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
This paper examines the materiality of elevated highways built in mid-1960s South Korea and explores the role of technology in the making of the postcolonial state. When first built in the late 1960s, the elevated highway was a technological novelty in the country. Unlike highways, mostly built in rural estates to connect cities, or bridges, erected over water to link landmasses, the peculiarity of elevated highways lay in that they were built in heavily populated sections of cities, either predominantly residential areas or commercial districts. As a “bridge on ground,” an elevated highway required new types of building technology crucial to support the innovative structure. Given the absence of such technology in South Korea, whose economy relied heavily on foreign aid and loan, the elevated highway seemed almost impossible and even irrational. How then was the construction of the elevated highway made possible? Focusing on the paradoxes of infrastructure development in the mid-twentieth century, I show that the elevated highway in South Korea was the product of a state engineering of public sentiment that was geared to gain popular support for large-scale public works which otherwise would have lacked legitimacy. In doing so, I explore how the elevated highway became a technological symbol combined with new urban aesthetics of mobility forged across national boundaries in the mid-twentieth century and how it came to acquire political force in the postcolonial state where the lack of technology was surmounted by a surfeit of affect.