Ethnography Lab / Events

Magical Capitalism, Gambler Subjects: South Korea’s Bitcoin Investment

Thursday, April 4, 2019 | 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM AP330, Anthropology Building 19 Russell St. _
Speaker: Seung Cheol LEE, University of Mississippi Chair: Jesook Song, Department of Anthropology, U of T

“First, it was just tech people. Now, literally everyone is interested in Bitcoin,” said New York Times while reporting on the Bitcoin mania that haunted South Korean society in the winter of 2017-2018. In this talk, I take this collective effervescence as an entry point to explore the “magical” features of contemporary financial capitalism. Drawing upon an ethnographic research on a South Korean Bitcoin investor online community, I first examine how the logics of uncertainty and luck are found at the heart of casino capitalism and how lay investors deal with the ambiguous future and luck in their everyday practices. In analogizing their logic and practices with those of gamblers, I illuminate how the emerging mass investment culture exhibits the religious and magical understanding of the world based on self-fulfilling “performativity” and what André Orléan calls “collective belief.” In consequence, this talk seeks to situate the Bitcoin frenzy and its mass investment culture within the broader transformation of human condition with the triumphant rise of financial capitalism.

Seung Cheol LEE is an assistant professor of Anthropology and East Asian Studies at the University of Mississippi. His research interests are focused on the question of how neoliberal financialization has reshaped people’s social, affective, ethical, and political lives. He is currently working on the formation of mass investment culture in South Korea in the context of its post-developmental and post-work transition.


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