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The Utopia of Heavy Industry Family: The Light and Shadow of Geoje, the Industrial CityYang Seung-hoon

“The heavy industry family project” was a project that was based on exclusion and inclusion from the beginning. The project reached its peak when permanent employees that moved to Geoje formed a family within a company community to fight off loneliness, and started immediate families through marriage and childbirth. But heavy industry families excluded subcontract workers and limited the space of women within the boundary of marriages. Above all, they exposed all their weaknesses to the younger generation who have entirely different world views (p. 113).

『The Utopia of Heavy Industry Family: The Light and Shadow of Geoje, the Industrial City』

Author : Yang Seung-hoon
Publisher : Maybooks
Publication date : January 24, 2019
Number of pages : 332
Format : 140x210mm
ISBN : 9791187373797

Yang Seung-hoon

Assistant Professor of the Department of Sociology at Kyungnam University. He teaches undergraduates the basics of social statistics and data analysis. He studied Politics and Cultural Research & Anthropology. He somehow ended up working at a dockyard even though he did not major in related fields. Based on this experience, he explores industrial policies, industrial cities and engineers.

Will Industrial Cities in the Southeastern Area Collapse?


The book covers the light and shadow of industrial cities in the southeastern part of Korea, particularly the shipbuilding city of Geoje. The book has some outstanding qualities that separates this book from other books on industrial cities.

First of all, the book is based on an in-depth understanding of a particular industry.  Technical characteristics, management strategies and accurate knowledge regarding the shipbuilding industry  – which provided for the entire city of Geoje as it involved more than half of the city’s population – can be found throughout this book. The analysis that although Geoje’s economic crisis was caused by the recession of the shipbuilding industry, the expansion of offshore plants was the ultimate cause of the city’s crisis couldn’t have come about without profound insight on the difference between shipbuilding and offshore plants. The book also takes a cautious approach toward optimistic views that claim Korea’s shipbuilding industry will be back on track once the demand for environmentally-friendly ships increases, or that we should not decrease our production as in the case of Japan. The book provides insights that only an expert can suggest because it points out internal weaknesses such as the lack of design engineering capability caused by the shipbuilding industry crisis and staffing system that relied too heavily on in-house subcontracting.

Secondly, it is impressive to see the detailed understanding and warm empathy toward the key players of the shipbuilding industry. More than anything, the vivid description of the morning scene and work flow at the dockyard is one of the best parts of this book. This would not have been possible without abundant experience and observation through participation at the industrial sites. The author also provides an interesting analysis on how engineering groups are divided by students who have graduated from top universities in Seoul and local universities in the southeastern region, and how their attitudes and behaviors are different. In other words, the author offers a convincing explanation on how, among those categorized as engineers, sub-groups may have different motivations for working in shipbuilding industries or take different approaches during crises. The author also takes an empathetic view toward what a labor union means to laborers at major companies. It becomes easy to relate once we take into consideration the confusion they must feel – they worked hard to make ends meet and practiced their rights and interests through labor union, and all of the sudden, they found themselves being criticized as “aristocrat unions.” “Without choosing Seoul,” “without going to college, if they worked diligently,” “they were able to maintain a high salary and stable employment conditions” (pp. 23-24).

Third of all, the book provides an organic connection between industries and cities. Other books on this topic only covered the industry or the city itself, even though the research was on industrial cities. Those books tend to be limited in their knowledge of industrial cities because they focus either on the “industrial” nature of cities or “cities” of industrial nature. Professor Yang’s book provides keen insight to the shipbuilding industry as well as the way the ranks of the residential areas of Geoje (Okpo, Jangseungpo and Aju-dong areas) are related to the industry. In addition, the book sets an example by covering the main issues of industrial cities such as value chains, class, everyday life, etc. In short, the book reveals the full nature of industrial cities that have organically connected industries and regions through Geoje’s case study.

Fourthly, the highlight of this book is the emphasis on the ambiguous meaning of heavy industry “families.” The movie Dance Sports Girls reveals the details of the stereotypical male breadwinner, housewives’ network and stories about their daughters’ employment. However, an alternative significance of “heavy industry family” can be found in the instances of “Daewoo family” or “Samsung family.” This book uncovers how the company becomes another family for its workers, depicting their employment, promotion, competition, agony and change of occupation. The pride the dockyard workers show by keeping their uniforms on after work; the time they spend with their coworkers due to extended hours, get-together dinners, overtime, etc., sharing three meals a day with them while they rarely have time to have dinner even once a week with their real families; this reality reflects the irony of how the company community may be, without exaggeration, called a family. That is why the vivid illustration of how this deeply bonded company “family” disintegrated during the company’s crisis and workforce reduction is rendered even more heartbreaking.

Fifthly, the book not only describes the crisis that the industrial city of Geoje faces, but also offers an alternative solution. This book is already significant in that it provides a multi-angled, shipbuilding-based analysis on the reason behind Geoje’s crisis. However, the author takes it a step further. He reviews the cases of Europe and Japan, countries that already experienced shipbuilding industry crises. After that, he offers alternative solutions regarding innovative small and medium enterprise development, expansion of female employment and southeastern university networks to enhance design engineering and technological capabilities for shipbuilding tools and materials. These solutions reveal that the author not only analyzed reality with a critical eye but also had put a lot of thought into the possible ways to overcome the crisis.


By Jo Hyung-je
Professor, College of Social Sciences, University of Ulsan

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