East Asian Cities: Urbanization and Big-City Life in Japan, China, and Korea

Course content

The East Asian region (China, Japan, the two Koreas, Taiwan, and Hong Kong) is home to about 1/5 of the world’s population and three of the world’s 11 largest economies. The region has undergone massive economic, social, and political changes in recent decades, most conspicuously expressed in mass-scale urbanization. Today, East Asia hosts about half of the world’s 50 largest cities, and the rural-to-urban development continues at a staggering pace. But how do people live in East Asia’s sprawling cities? What types of social environments and meaning making, everyday realities, and new problems emerge in these vibrant and ever-changing localities? How can the region’s vast cityscapes be approached ethnographically, as a complex field of anthropological enquiry?

In this course, we will engage these questions by focusing on the region’s three most populous countries and four overall themes: living, working, relating, and consuming. Studying and discussing recent ethnographic accounts and region-specific theorizations grounded in the four themes will give us both panoramic and critical insight into urbanization processes, social realities, and new phenomena in East Asia’s cities. What type of atmosphere defines “home” in Japanese middle-class suburbia? How do China’s migrant workers deal with social and spatial  marginalization? How do young South Koreans juggle a precarious job situation, family obligations, and soaring housing prices? And what does the “old” countryside mean to contemporary city-dwellers? Engaging these and related questions involves a range of central anthropological concerns, including development, gender, kinship, insecurity, mobility, and nostalgia. Engaging with the literature, we will train our critical and analytical skills, develop systematic reading skills and train our ability to read “beyond the facts” to identify textual layers and critically reflect on research questions, methods, arguments, and the position of the ethnographer in the course readings. The course ends with an exam essay aiming to combine such skills and concerns with newly acquired regional knowledge. 


The teaching in spring 2022 will be online until the 1. of April due to the Covid19 situation.

As soon as it is permitted and justifiable, it is up to the individual lecturer whether to transition to a blended format or wish to continue with full online teaching for the rest of the semester. The individual lecturer will inform you of the above choice in the Absalon room for each course. 

Courses with oral exams will be held online if the relevant restrictions have not been lifted at least four weeks before the individual exam. This will be notified in Absalon. Courses with written take home exams will not experience any changes in relation to the normal exam form.

Learning outcome


  • Be able to critically and systematically engage ethnographic accounts of region-specific issues and developments through a focus on central concerns in the anthropology of East Asian cities.     



  • Be able to demonstrate an overview of the social, economic, and political circumstances underlying urbanization as well as in-depth awareness of some of its social consequences in one or several East Asian countries.



  • Be able to critically discuss ethnographic literature on urbanization and big-city life in East Asia, including an ability to identify research methods, suppositions, and central arguments in a selection of the academic literature.

Weekly lectures + Discussion-based seminars.

BSc students and MSc students: 500 pages obligatory literature.

The teacher will publish 200-300 pages of supplementary literature.

Course literature will be available through Absalon.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester

Written feedback and comments from teacher on ongoing essay writing on the basis of students submitting draft version to teacher towards the end of the course (scheduled activity).

Essay topic- and exam-related discussions integrated into the lectures throughout the course.

7,5 ECTS
Type of assessment
Written assignment
One BA student: 21600-26400 keystrokes. For group responses, Min. 6,750 and Max. 8,250 extra keystrokes per extra group member.

One MA student: 27,000-33,000 keystrokes. For group responses, Min. 8,450 and Max. 10,300 extra keystrokes per extra group member.

For groups with both BA and MA students:
A MA and a BA student: 31,900-38,975 (BA: 14.175-17.325 KA: 17.725-21.650)
A MA and two BA students: 38,050 – 46,475 (BA: 11,700-14.300 KA: 14.650-17.875)
A MA and three BA students: 44,525-54,375 (BA: 10.475-12,800 MA: 13.100-15.975)
Two MA and one BA student: 41,000-50,050 (BA: 11,700-14.300 KA: 14.650-17.875)
Two MA and two BA students: 47,150-57,550 (BA: 10.475-12,800 MA: 13.100-15.975)
Three MA and one BA student: 49,775-60,725 (BA: 10.475-12,800 MA: 13.100-15.975)

MA students must include supplementary literature in the exam assignment. The supplementary literature is chosen by the student.

Iof level and contribution
Students must indicate on the first page of the assignment whether they are a BA or MA students. In the case of group assignments, the contribution of each individual student must be clearly marked in the assignment.
All aids allowed
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Criteria for exam assessment

See learning outcome.

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Lectures
  • 42
  • Preparation
  • 100
  • Exam
  • 64
  • English
  • 206


Course number
7,5 ECTS
Programme level
Bachelor choice
Full Degree Master choice

1 semester

Se Skema
Department of Anthropology, Study Council
Contracting department
  • Department of Anthropology
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Social Sciences
Course Coordinator
  • Jens Sejrup   (6-75676c747772426a776f306d7730666d)
Saved on the 23-03-2022

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