The main aim of the thesis is to examine representations of Korean national identity in the modernised version of Korean traditional clothing, hanbok. First, the notion of national identity itself and the discursive aspects of non-verbal modes were examined, after which data from the modern hanbok brand Leesle was analysed using the tools of discourse analysis, particularly the coding process developed for the Making Identity Count framework. The data itself consisted of product descriptions from the Leesle website, together with visual representation of the respective products. The findings retrieved through the coding process were then discussed in the wider context of Korean society and the prevailing ideas on Korean identity.
Examining discourses represented in product descriptions listed in the online store of the modern hanbok retailer Leesle demonstrated how discourses of national identity can not only be created and conveyed through non-verbal modes but can also be applied in individual self-expression and experienced in everyday settings.
Furthermore, the case of modern hanbok provided an intriguing framework for examining the relational aspects of identity, as modern hanbok itself was delineated by several significant others – the extracted codes demonstrated that modern hanbok regards itself as distinct from modern clothes (which have a decidedly Western origin) as well as traditional hanbok. These findings further emphasised the constructed nature of identity and how identity discourses are constantly negotiated and renegotiated within the society.
Historically, but to a degree even nowadays, the “lower art forms”, such as handicrafts but also folk music and other popular genres of art, constitute the main and often only modes the subaltern have at their disposal for representing their experiences of life and identity. As representations are constitutive of discourses, and discourses of identities, it is crucial that meanings conveyed in non-verbal modes would gain wider recognition among agents in positions of power. Examining the communicative and meaning-making aspects of modes better accessible to the subaltern population has the potential to reveal discourses which otherwise are often overlooked in official representations, provide a more comprehensive understanding of the diverse experiences inside a given society, and inform future policies with the aim of addressing societal issues in a more inclusive manner.