I just purchased my ticket to South Korea! I will be in Seoul from May 21 to June 4 to conduct field research on the branding of English in South Korea. You can read more about my research below. Just to warn you, there is a bit of Cultural Studies jargon, but I did my best to explain my research in layman’s terms.
Because of the fierce competition to score well on the infamous National Exams, get into the top universities, and secure the best jobs, attending after school private academies or hagwons to learn English has become the norm for young South Koreans. The growing demand for English has resulted into a multi-million dollar educational industry where the competition between hagwons is just as severe as the rivalry between students. It is not uncommon for people to switch hagwons just as quickly as they change hairstyles. Due to the intense competition, hagwons have developed unconventional branding techniques in order to attract more students.
One example of this recent phenomenon is the English Channel, a hagwon that has employed the theme of the “doctor’s clinic.” At the English Channel, students work one-on-one Language Trainers dressed in lab coats in crammed clinic-style offices.
Drawing from Scott Lash and Celia Lury’s understanding of cultural production and branding in the era of globalization, this project will look at how the English Channel has employed the idea of the “doctor’s clinic” in order to understand the ways in which English may be branded and consumed. This dissertation will focus on the English Channel Junior, currently the only branch at the English Channel Corporation that is geared towards young people and the institute at which I previously worked.
Using photographic documentation, interview, and participant observation, I will construct a multimodal biography* that looks at how varying semiotic modes are configured to enact the brand of the English Channel Junior. I will conduct a close reading of the English Channel Junior, examining the relations between visual and spatial design, bodily dress, and the actors within this space to understand how this brand is multimodally actualized. It is my hope that this project will offer insight into how English, understood as a field of potentiality that may be enacted in different ways, is actualized within a specific contemporary cultural setting in the era of globalization. This is important because the way English is instantiated affects the way in which people communicate and interact with the world.
*By multimodal, I am referring to Gunther Kress and Theo Van Leeuwen’s conception of multimodality, which they define “as the use of several semiotic modes in the design of a semiotic product or event, together with the particular way in which these modes are combined” (20).
By biography, I am borrowing from Scott Lash and Celia Lury’s reading of anthropologist Alfred Gell’s understanding of the biographic approach, which allows us “to consider our objects as…a set of relations” and “to think of objects as having a life” (18 and 20).