Corporate Groups and the Visible Hand of Administration: A Case from South Korea

Michael Prentice is a linguistic anthropologist who focuses on language, management, and technology in contemporary South Korea. For his dissertation, he spent a year as an ethnographer-intern inside a steel conglomerate in Seoul. His dissertation seeks to understand how control operates in South Korean corporate worlds through an emphasis on the forms of writing, technologies, and events that mediate office life. In contrast to the image of centralized and top-down control emanating from family-owners, his dissertation shows how high-level managers are equally constrained by and occupied with the documents, systems, and meetings used to control their own complex empires. As South Korea continues to wrestle with conglomerates as regulatory objects and sites of office inequality, his research points to the ways that conglomerate managers themselves are tied up by many of these same concerns. His research has received support from the Korea Foundation, Academy of Korean Studies, the Wenner-Gren Foundation, and the Fulbright Program.