Analog Optimism: Voice, Digitalized Life, and the Aural Labor of Becoming in South Korea

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This dissertation examines how un(der)employed South Korean young adults maintain optimism in their pursuit of a “good life” that itself is contingent on regular employment. Based on fieldwork about everyday economic insecurity in neoliberal Seoul, I propose that the labor invested to keep their employability viable includes a labor of the voice. I examine how my informants cultivate the aesthetic, poetic, and communicative qualities of their voice in order to get ahead in a world in which quantitative assessments, communicative labor exchange, and technological mediation—the “digitalities of neoliberalism”—confer value on particular kinds of voice. I attend to the shifting demands that inform what one’s voice can do or should be (or not) to be aurally recognized as an employable subject, arguing for how this conceptual instability keeps Koreans’ aspirational pursuits continuously unfinished, and their social mobility largely horizonal. Listening durationally to how my informants’ vocal articulations register this potential, this dissertation critiques the teleological orientations of neoliberal (im)possibility that aurally implicates their voice and limits their futurity otherwise. Terming this specific process “analog optimism,” I propose that laboring (over the voice) is a process which continuously hints at the qualitative capaciousness of more life, both in the future and the meantime, even as the rationalized logics of a knowledge economy compresses the vitality of life, reduces time for pleasure, incites exhaustion, and complicates their status as a liberal human.






Black, Cody (2023). Analog Optimism: Voice, Digitalized Life, and the Aural Labor of Becoming in South Korea. Dissertation, Duke University. Retrieved from


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