Funeral capitalism: Commodification and digital marketing of funeral services in contemporary Korea

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This paper attempts to understand and analyze ‘‘pariah-capitalism’’ in South Korea through the case of highly dehumanized and commodified funeral services as advertised in the media. There is much in common between Max Weber’s concept of pariah-capitalism and ‘‘funeral capitalism’’ in the context of this paper, the latter of which pays attention to the practice and impact of pariah-capitalism on the lives of Koreans in Korean society. The paper starts by commenting on a couple of dramatic changes in Korean funeral rites in the last two decades: the change of the venues of funeral rites and the popularization of cremation rather than traditional burials. In addition, the dramatic commercialization of funeral services has created a huge source of income for prestigious general hospitals and funeral service conglomerates. I then discuss some long-lasting socioeconomic and cultural aspects of Korea that have paved the way for a high degree of commercialization of funeral services, eventually triggering the coming of ‘‘funeral capitalism’’ to South Korea. The ways in which funeral capitalism is manifested in Korean society are illustrated through an analysis of TV advertisements. This analysis reveals the extent to which funeral services are rituals through which socioeconomically and culturally grounded Korean greed is fulfilled, illustrating the characteristics of a highly competitive and overly dehumanized Korean capitalism that is strongly promoted by the digital media.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)58-77
Number of pages20
JournalKorean Studies
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sep 2016


  • Funeral rites
  • Digital marketing
  • Modernity
  • Urbanization
  • Filial piety
  • Confucianism

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