This study is an inquiry into the vulnerability of people living in jjokbang-chon, which is a poor urban neighborhood or one of the last remaining so-called “slum” neighborhoods in S. Korea, to extreme weather disasters. Using the Pressure and Release (PAR) framework as a theoretical lens, this study aims to understand the vulnerability of the residents in jjokbang-chon to extreme weather and how they perceive these risks.
This study is an ethnography of people living in jjokbang-chon and their vulnerability to extreme weather. The fieldwork, which involved my living in jjokbang-chon for 11 months as well as participant observation through volunteering at various social service agencies and grassroots groups, was carried out from November 2019 to October 2020. Living in a micro-unit in jjokbang-chon amongst community members was particularly important because the topic of this study was extreme weather, in which understanding the senses and the bodily engagement of living in similar conditions to the residents was necessary. The embodied experience of living in a jjokbang enabled an empathic understanding of the multi-sensorial vulnerability created by the built environment of a jjokbang.
Thematic analysis, which entailed 1) an interpretive reading of the data (field notes, interview transcripts, photographs, videos, and documents) chronologically and thematically, based on the themes that have emerged in the field and 2) multiple rounds of coding (“in vivo” coding, concept coding, and open coding) using Nvivo 12 was carried out. Through this process of analysis, I developed analytic insights that help illuminate and answer the study questions.
There was a widespread sense of normalcy around extreme weather among people living in jjokbang-chon rather than being bothered by or fretting about the extreme weather, which one study participant explained, “all year around, all four seasons are filled with distress, every day is a disaster. When every day is like that, when every day is a disaster, when our daily life is a disaster, the weather doesn’t matter. It’s not like the summer or the winter becomes particularly hard.” This “every day is a disaster,” suggested that the enormous strain of navigating, or surviving, the disaster-like everyday of people living in jjokbang-chon overshadows external stimuli like extreme weather. Therefore, extreme weather becomes an inconsequential force and results in a widespread sense of normalcy around extreme weather.
By gaining a deeper understanding of the everyday lives of jjokbang-chon residents and their experiences of extreme weather through reconstructing the detailed texture of their lives, this study provided a deeper understanding of what it means to be vulnerable and the social constructivist perspective in examining disasters. Gaining socially situated knowledge of communities that are affected to climate change related disasters and understanding vulnerability through their lived experience is especially important in times of climate crisis, which will have a far more devastating impact on the marginalized.