Vietnamese Reception of Soft Masculinities in Korean Television Dramas: Desires, Identifications, and Gender

Vietnamese Reception of Soft Masculinities in Korean Television Dramas: Desires, Identifications, and Gender
This doctoral thesis explores Vietnamese audience reception of soft masculinities, defined by the aestheticisation and romantic idealisation of male characters, in South Korean television dramas (K-dramas). Based on interview data collected in 2019, the thesis focuses on patterns of gendered desire, identification, and negotiation in viewers in their 20s and 30s. It highlights the popularity of K-dramas in Vietnam, which have established an enduring presence there since the late 1990s, overlapping with ongoing changes in gender relations following the introduction of the 1986 Đổi Mới (reform) policy, marked by Vietnam’s transition to a market economy and gradual integration into global trade. The thesis demonstrates how the spread of this “Korean Wave” is correlated with a changing local mediascape, the rise of a consumer culture, and a growing interest in exploring the self.

In this thesis, I adopt the Free Association Narrative Interview (FANI) method, which draws on the solicitation of free talk and storytelling and psychosocial attention to case studies in order to connect interview participants’ biographical details with their viewing experiences. The study is influenced by Judith Butler’s theoretical work on gender and performativity, as well as related material by scholars such as Michel Foucault and Pierre Bourdieu. I highlight how a nuanced understanding of the viewing experience treats it as a complex process linked to an individual’s biographical details and explore how this process intertwines with larger sociocultural contexts, including local norms, Confucian values, feminism, Western gender images, notions of modernity, and globalised aesthetic ideals. The study reveals that although gendered desires and identifications are shaped by norms, they can also subvert them, and thus provides empirical evidence for Butler’s theories from a Vietnamese context. It also shows that desires and identifications that result from engagement with fantasy on screen may follow viewers’ personalised logics and open up multiple avenues for interpretations. Prominent themes of viewing experiences in relation to soft masculinities analysed in this thesis include escapism, parasocial interactions with characters, romantic imaginations, melancholic identification with romantic relationships on screen, desires for upward mobility, queer pleasures, ambivalence, and disidentification. The thesis thus contributes to contemporary Vietnamese studies, gender studies, psychosocial studies, media audience studies, and research on the Korean Wave.


Thi Gammon

Defended in

1 Jan 2021 – 31 Dec 2021

PhD defended at

Victoria University of Wellington


Social Sciences


Global Asia (Asia and other parts of the World)
South Korea


Gender and Identity