Byung-Chul Han

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Byung-Chul Han
Born1959 (1959) (age 62)
NationalityGerman and Swiss
Alma materUniversity of Freiburg
University of Basel
Era20th- / 21st-century philosophy
RegionWestern philosophy
SchoolHegelianism, deconstruction
Main interests
Korean name
Revised RomanizationHan Byeongcheol
McCune–ReischauerHan Pyŏngchŏl
IPA/han pjʌŋt͡ɕʰʌl/

Byung-Chul Han (born 1959) is a South Korean-born Swiss-German philosopher and cultural theorist. He was a professor at the Berlin University of the Arts and still occasionally gives courses there.

Life and work[edit]

Byung-Chul Han studied metallurgy at Korea University in Seoul[1] before he moved to Germany in the 1980s to study philosophy, German literature and Catholic theology in Freiburg im Breisgau and Munich. He received his doctoral degree at Freiburg with a dissertation on Martin Heidegger in 1994.

In 2000, he joined the Department of Philosophy at the University of Basel, where he completed his habilitation. In 2010 he became a faculty member at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design, where his areas of interest were philosophy of the 18th, 19th and 20th century, ethics, social philosophy, phenomenology, cultural theory, aesthetics, religion, media theory, and intercultural philosophy. Since 2012 he has taught philosophy and cultural studies at the Universität der Künste Berlin (UdK), where he directs the newly established Studium Generale general-studies program.[2]

Han is the author of sixteen books, the most recent of which are treatises on what he terms a "society of tiredness" (Müdigkeitsgesellschaft), a "society of transparency" (Transparenzgesellschaft), and on his neologist concept of shanzhai, which seeks to identify modes of deconstruction in contemporary practices of Chinese capitalism.

Han's current work focuses on transparency as a cultural norm created by neoliberal market forces, which he understands as the insatiable drive toward voluntary disclosure bordering on the pornographic. According to Han, the dictates of transparency enforce a totalitarian system of openness at the expense of other social values such as shame, secrecy, and trust.[3]

Until recently, he refused to give radio and television interviews and rarely divulges any biographical or personal details, including his date of birth, in public.[4]


Much of Han's writing is characterised by an underlying concern with the situation encountered by human subjects in the fast-paced, technologically-driven state of late capitalism. The situation is explored in its various facets through his books: sexuality, mental health (particularly burnout, depression, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), violence, freedom, technology, and popular culture.

In The Burnout Society (original German title: Müdigkeitsgesellschaft), Han characterizes today's society as a pathological landscape of neuronal disorders such as depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality and burnout. He claims that they are not "infections" but "infarcts", which are not caused by the negativity of people's immunology, but by an excess of positivity.[5] According to Han, driven by the demand to persevere and not to fail, as well as by the ambition of efficiency, we become committers and sacrificers at the same time and enter a swirl of demarcation, self-exploitation and collapse. "When production is immaterial, everyone already owns the means of production, him- or herself. The neoliberal system is no longer a class system in the proper sense. It does not consist of classes that display mutual antagonism. This is what accounts for the system's stability."[6] Han argues that subjects become self-exploiters: "Today, everyone is an auto-exploiting labourer in his or her own enterprise. People are now master and slave in one. Even class struggle has transformed into an inner struggle against oneself."[7] The individual has become what Han calls "the achievement-subject"; the individual does not believe they are subjugated "subjects" but rather "projects: Always refashioning and reinventing ourselves" which "amounts to a form of compulsion and constraint—indeed, to a "more efficient kind of subjectivation and subjugation." As a project deeming itself free of external and alien limitations, the "I" subjugates itself to internal limitations and self-constraints, which are taking the form of compulsive achievement and optimization.[8]

Agonie des Eros ('Agony of the Eros') carries forward Han's thoughts, which he developed in his earlier books The Burnout Society (German: Müdigkeitsgesellschaft) and Transparency Society (German: Transparenzgesellschaft), and synthesises the two earlier works into an interrogation of desire and love between humans. Based on an analysis of the characters in Lars von Trier's film "Melancholia", in which Han sees depicted depression and overcoming, he develops the image of a society that is increasingly dominated by narcissism and self-reference. Han's diagnosis extends even to the point of the loss of desire, the disappearance of the ability to devote to "the other", the stranger, the non-self. At this point, subjects come to revolve exclusively around themselves, unable to build relationships. Even love and sexuality are permeated by this social change: sex and pornography, exhibition/voyeurism and re/presentation, are displacing love, eroticism, and desire from the public eye. The abundance of positivity and self-reference leads to a loss of confrontation. Thinking, Han states, is based on the "untreaded", on the desire for something that one does not yet understand. It is connected to a high degree with Eros, so the "agony of the Eros" is also an "agony of thought". Not everything must be understood and "liked", not everything must be made available.

In Topologie der Gewalt ('Topology of Violence'), Han continues his analysis of a society on the edge of collapse that he started with The Burnout Society. Focusing on the relation between violence and individuality, he shows that, against the widespread thesis about its disappearance, violence has only changed its form of appearance and now operates more subtly. The material form of violence gives way to a more anonymous, desubjectified, systemic one, that does not reveal itself, as it is merging with its antagonist – freedom. This theme is further explored in "Psychopolitics", where through Sigmund Freud, Walter Benjamin, Carl Schmitt, Richard Sennett, René Girard, Giorgio Agamben, Deleuze/Guattari, Michel Foucault, Michel Serres, Pierre Bourdieu and Martin Heidegger, Han develops an original conception of violence. Central to Han's thesis is the idea that violence finds expression in 'negative' and 'positive' forms (note: these are not normative judgements about the expressions themselves): negative violence is an overtly physical manifestation of violence, finding expression in war, torture, terrorism, etc; positive violence "manifests itself as over-achievement, over-production, over-communication, hyper-attention, and hyperactivity. The violence of positivity, Han warns, could be even more disastrous than that of negativity. Infection, invasion, and infiltration have given way to infarction."[9]


Han has written on topics such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, borderline personality disorder, burnout, depression, exhaustion, internet, love, pop culture, power, rationality, religion, social media, subjectivity, tiredness, transparency and violence.


Müdigkeitsgesellschaft will soon be available in 11 languages.[10] Several South Korean newspapers voted it to be the most important book in 2012.[11] The Guardian wrote a positive review of his 2017 book Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power,[12] while the Hong Kong Review of Books praised his writing as "concise almost to the point of being aphoristic, Han's writing style manages to distill complex ideas into highly readable and persuasive prose" while noting that "on other occasions, Han veers uncomfortably close to billboard-sized statements ("Neoliberalism is the 'capitalism of' Like), which highlights the fine line between cleverness and self-indulgent sloganeering."[13] The Los Angeles Review of Books described him as "as good a candidate as any for philosopher of the moment."[14]

Works in English[edit]

  • The Burnout Society (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2015) ISBN 9780804795098.
  • The Transparency Society (Stanford: Stanford Briefs, 2015) ISBN 080479460X
  • The Agony of Eros (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2017) ISBN 0262533375
  • In the Swarm: Digital Prospects (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2017), ISBN 0262533367
  • Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power (London & New York: Verso Books, 2017) ISBN 9781784785772
  • Saving Beauty (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017) ISBN 9781509515103
  • The Scent of Time: A Philosophical Essay on the Art of Lingering (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2017) ISBN 1509516050
  • Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2017) ISBN 0262534363
  • The Expulsion of the Other: Society, Perception and Communication Today (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018) ISBN 1509523065
  • Topology of Violence (Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press, 2018) ISBN 9780262534956
  • What Is Power? (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2018) ISBN 9781509516100
  • Good Entertainment: A Deconstruction of the Western Passion Narrative (Cambirdge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2019) ISBN 0262537508
  • The Disappearance of Rituals: A Topology of the Present (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2020) ISBN 1509542760
  • Capitalism and the Death Drive (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2021) ISBN 9781509545018
  • The Palliative Society: Pain Today (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2021) ISBN 9781509547258
  • Hyperculture: Culture and Globalisation (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2022) ISBN 9781509546183


  • Heideggers Herz. Zum Begriff der Stimmung bei Martin Heidegger. Wilhelm Fink, Paderborn 1999.
  • Todesarten. Philosophische Untersuchungen zum Tod. Wilhelm Fink, Paderborn 1999.
  • Martin Heidegger. UTB, Stuttgart 1999.
  • Tod und Alterität. Wilhelm Fink, Paderborn 2002.
  • Philosophie des Zen-Buddhismus. Reclam, Stuttgart 2002.
    • Portuguese edition: Filosofia do Budismo Zen, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2016, ISBN 9789896418588.
  • Was ist Macht. Reclam, Stuttgart 2005.
    • Brazilian Portuguese edition: O que é poder?, Vozes, Petrópolis, 2019 ISBN 9788532662439.
    • Korean edition: 《권력이란 무엇인가》. Moonji, 2009, ISBN 9788976823335.
    • Portuguese edition:Sobre o Poder, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2017, ISBN 9789896417048.
  • Hyperkulturalität: Kultur und Globalisierung. Merve, Berlin 2005. ISBN 978-3-88396-212-2.
    • Brazilian Portuguese edition: Hiperculturalidade: cultura e globalização, Vozes, Petrópolis, 2019 ISBN 9788532661081.
  • Hegel und die Macht. Ein Versuch über die Freundlichkeit. Wilhelm Fink, Paderborn 2005.
  • Gute Unterhaltung. Eine Dekonstruktion der abendländischen Passionsgeschichte. Verlag Vorwerk 8, Berlin 2007.
  • Abwesen: Zur Kultur und Philosophie des Fernen Ostens. Merve, Berlin 2007. ISBN 978-3-88396-235-1.
    • Spanish edition: Ausencia. Acerca de la cultura y la filosofía del Lejano Oriente. Caja Negra Editora, 2019, ISBN 9789871622726.
  • Duft der Zeit: Ein philosophischer Essay zur Kunst des Verweilens. Transkript 2009.
  • Müdigkeitsgesellschaft Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-88221-616-5.
    • Brazilian Portuguese edition: Sociedade do Cansaço, Vozes, Petrópolis, 2015 ISBN 9788532649966.
    • Catalan edition: La societat del cansament, Herder, Barcelona, 2015 ISBN 9788425436758.
    • Czech edition: Vyhořelá společnost, Rybka Publishing, 2016, ISBN 9788087950050. (essays)
    • Danish edition: Træthedssamfundet. Møller, 2012, ISBN 9788799404377.
    • Dutch edition: De vermoeide samenleving. van gennep, 2012, ISBN 9789461640710.
    • English edition: The Burnout Society. Stanford UP, 2015, ISBN 9780804795098.
    • French edition: La Société de la fatigue, édition circé, 2014, ISBN 978-2842423568.[15]
    • Greek edition: in progress, Editions Opera.
    • Italian edition: La società della stanchezza. nottetempo, 2012, ISBN 978-88-7452-345-0.
    • Korean edition: 《피로사회》. Moonji, 2011, ISBN 9788932023960.
    • Macedonian edition: in progress, Tabahon.
    • Portuguese edition: A Sociedade do Cansaço, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2014, ISBN 9789896414498.
    • Romanian edition: in progress, Humanitas.
    • Spanish edition: La sociedad del cansancio. Barcelona, Herder Editorial, 2012, ISBN 978-84-254-2868-5.
    • Swedish edition: Trötthetssamhället. Ersatz, 2013, ISBN 978-91-87219-62-7.
    • Traditional Chinese edition: 《倦怠社會》. Taipei: Locus (大塊), 2015. ISBN 9789862135976.
    • Turkish edition: in progress, Pinar Yayinlari.
  • Shanzhai 山寨 - Dekonstruktion auf Chinesisch. Merve, Berlin 2011, ISBN 9789896419394.
    • Spanish edition: Shanzhai. El arte de la falsificación y la deconstrucción en China. Buenos Aires, Caja Negra Editora, 2016, ISBN 978-987-1622-50-4.
  • Topologie der Gewalt. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2011, ISBN 978-3-88221-495-6.
    • Korean edition: in progress, Moonji.
    • Turkish edition: in progress, Metis.
    • Portuguese edition: Topologia da Violência, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2019, ISBN 9789896414498.
  • Transparenzgesellschaft. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-88221-595-3.
    • Catalan edition: La societat de la transparència, Barcelona Herder, 2015, ISBN 9788425436789.
    • Dutch edition: De transparente samenleving. van gennep, 2012, ISBN 9789461641892.
    • English edition: The Transparency Society. Stanford UP, 2015, ISBN 9780804794602.
    • Greek edition: in progress, Editions Opera.
    • Italian edition: La società della trasparenza, nottetempo, 2014. ISBN 9788874525058
    • Korean edition: 《투명사회》, Moonji, 2014, ISBN 9788932026114.
    • Portuguese edition: A Sociedade da Transparência, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2014, ISBN 9789896414634.
    • Romanian edition: in progress, Humanitas.
    • Russian edition: in progress, Logos.
    • Spanish edition: La sociedad de la transparencia. Barcelona, Herder Editorial, 2013, ISBN 9788425432521.
  • Agonie des Eros. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2012, ISBN 978-3-88221-973-9.
  • Bitte Augen schließen. Auf der Suche nach einer anderen Zeit. Matthes & Seitz Berlin 2013 ebook, ISBN 978-3-88221-064-4.
  • Digitale Rationalität und das Ende des kommunikativen Handelns. Matthes & Seitz Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-88221-066-8.
    • Italian edition: Razionalità digitale. La fine dell'agire comunicativo. GoWare edizioni, 2014, ISBN 978-88-6797-145-9
  • Im Schwarm. Ansichten des Digitalen. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2013, ISBN 978-3-88221-037-8.
    • English edition: In the Swarm: Digital Prospects. MIT Press, 2017, ISBN 978-0262533362.
    • Spanish edition: En el enjambre. Barcelona, Herder Editorial, 2014, ISBN 978-84-254-3368-9.
    • Portuguese edition: No Enxame, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2016, ISBN 9789896416553.
    • French edition: in progress, Actes Sud.
    • Italian edition:Nello sciame. Visioni del digitale, nottetempo, 2015. ISBN 9788874525416
    • Swedish edition: I svärmen. Tankar om det digitala . Stockholm, Ersatz, 2014. ISBN 978-91-87219-76-4.
  • Psychopolitik: Neoliberalismus und die neuen Machttechniken (Essay Collection). S. Fischer Verlag Frankfurt 2014 ISBN 978-3100022035.
    • English edition: Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power. Verso Books, 2017. ISBN 9781784785772
    • Portuguese edition: Psicopolítica, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2015, ISBN 9789896415402.
    • Spanish edition: Psicopolítica. Barcelona, Herder Editorial, 2014, ISBN 978-84-254-3368-9.
  • Die Errettung des Schönen. S. Fischer Verlag Frankfurt 2015.
    • Spanish edition: La salvación de lo bello. Barcelona, Herder Editorial, 2015, ISBN 978-84-254-3758-8.
    • Portuguese edition: A Salvação do Belo, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2016, ISBN 9789896416171.
  • Die Austreibung des Anderen: Gesellschaft, Wahrnehmung und Kommunikation heute. S. Fischer, Berlin, 2016. ISBN 978-3103972122.
    • Portuguese edition: A Expulsão do Outro, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2018, ISBN 9789896418434.
  • Close-Up in Unschärfe. Merve, Berlin 2016. ISBN 978-3-88396-387-7.
  • Gute Unterhaltung: Eine Dekonstruktion der abendländischen Passionsgeschichte. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2017. ISBN 978-3957572752.
    • Portuguese edition: Entretenimento e Paixão na História do Ocidente, Relógio D'Água Editores, 2019, ISBN 9789896419158.
  • Lob der Erde: Eine Reise in den Garten. Ullstein, Berlin 2018. ISBN 978-3550050381.
  • Vom Verschwinden der Rituale: Eine Topologie der Gegenwart. Ullstein, Berlin 2019. ISBN 978-3550050718.
  • Palliativgesellschaft. Schmerz heute. Matthes & Seitz, Berlin 2020. ISBN 978-3957572691.


  1. ^ "[책과 지식] 『피로사회』 저자 한병철, 도올 김용옥 만나다" [(Books and knowledge) 'Society of Tiredness' author Han Byung-Chul and Do-ol Kim Young-oak meet]. JoongAng Ilbo. 24 March 2013. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  2. ^ "Studium Generale".
  3. ^ "Klarheit schaffen". der Freitag. 2012-06-07. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
  4. ^ "Play more and work less: A visit with Byung-Chul Han in Karlsruhe". Sign and Sight. 2011-07-25. Retrieved 2012-06-09.
  5. ^ "'새 대통령에게 선물하고 싶은 책' 1위 철학자 한병철의 '피로사회'". Kyunghyang Shinmun. 2012-11-29. Archived from the original on 2013-12-03. Retrieved 2013-12-09.
  6. ^ Han, "Psychopolitics" (2017), p. 13
  7. ^ Han, "Psychopolitics" (2017), p. 13
  8. ^ Han, "Psychopolitics" (2017), p. 21
  9. ^ "Topology of Violence". The MIT Press. Retrieved 2019-01-09.
  10. ^ "Translations".
  11. ^ "2012년 미디어 선정 올해의 책" [2012 Media Picks for Book of the Year]. Aladin Books. Retrieved 30 May 2018.
  12. ^ Jeffries, Stuart (2017-12-30). "Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Technologies of Power by Byung-Chul Han – review". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-01-09.
  13. ^ Hamilton (2018-05-16). "Psychopolitics". HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS 香港書評. Retrieved 2019-01-09.
  14. ^ West, Adrian Nathan. "Media and Transparency: An Introduction to Byung-Chul Han in English". Los Angeles Review of Books. Retrieved 2019-01-09.
  15. ^ "Byung-Chul Han - La Société de la fatigue, Traduction de l'allemand par Julie Stroz". (in French). Retrieved 30 May 2018.

External links[edit]