Since the 1990s, the number of fare-exempt elderly people using the subway has greatly increased. The younger generation views the elderly male passengers known as kkondae (slang for old, annoying people) with contempt. On the subway, one can often witness the elderly male passengers scolding the young people for not offering their seats to the elderly, or for their naive attitude towards security—thereby disrupting the peaceful atmosphere of the subway. This study thus examines the pattern of subway usage by elderly men, the insults that they experience from the younger generation, and how they respond to these insults by asserting a higher moral stature. Through this, rather than merely understanding these conflicts as a case of “cantankerous older men,” it investigates how male elder passengers’ efforts to recuperate a damaged sense of self constitute a struggle for recognition within a “non-place,” the subway.
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