Selling Smiles: Emotional Labor and Labor-Management Relations in 1930s Colonial Korean Department Stores

Jinseok Oh, Howard Kahm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Department stores were the most luxurious retail institutions in colonial Korea in terms of their architecture, interior design, and product offerings. While Korean department stores closely resembled their Western and Japanese counterparts in form and function, the Korean department stores were unique for their position in developing retail practices and policies within a colonial context. Specifically, department stores hired young female workers to provide emotional labor to both customers and managers, which illustrated the transition from precapitalist to capitalist modes of emotional labor. Furthermore, the creation of a corporate culture and employee training programs that demanded a specific type of emotional labor resulted in various reactions from the employees, including complaints, criminal acts and violence, and the rise of class and political consciousness. Consequently, the evolution of labor-management relations in 1930s Korean department stores offers a gendered perspective on the economic and cultural aspects of Japanese control over life on the Korean peninsula, particularly through the bottom-up view of female department store workers.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3-24
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Korean Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018 Mar 1

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by a research grant from Pai Chai University in 2017. An earlier draft was presented at the 2014 World Business History Conference in Frankfurt, Germany. The authors thank the conference participants and the two anonymous reviewers from the Journal of Korean Studies for their comments and suggestions.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018 by the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences(all)


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