The Dichotomy Unspooled:
Outlining the Cultural Geography of Seoul
Department of Sociology
Seoul National University
Department of Geography
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The binary contrast of “Kangnam vs. Kangbuk” — which denote the areas of Seoul to the south and north of the Han River, respectively — is a popular shorthand for the cultural geography of Seoul today. The presumption is that how Seoulites live and where they live overlap with each other along a fault line dividing the two. We examine how wide and deep the divide really is in this paper. Using a dataset specifically circumscribed to the residents of Seoul and disaggregated at the district level, we analyze a set of items from the cultural repertoire of Seoulites and assess the correspondence between cultural and geographical boundaries. We find the Kangnam-Kangbuk dichotomy thesis unsustainable; the empirics of Seoul’s cultural geography is much more subtle and complex than the thesis suggests. This lack of agreement may reflect the underlying, and ongoing, dynamics of cultural formation and its social and geographic encoding in Korea.