5 key Concepts in the Work of Byung-Chul Han

The work of Byung-Chul Han is a call to resistance against phenomena such as productivity without limits, the digitalization of life and consensual servitude. All these are contemporary realities that are making us sick.


The work of Byung-Chul Han is one of the most interesting of today. However, although it is already very famous and famous, it has not been popularized enough yet. That is why it is worthwhile to make an approximation to its postulates, especially if we are interested in reflecting on the current lifestyle and the direction we are taking.

This South Korean philosopher and writer is also an expert in cultural studies and has become one of the most authoritative voices of contemporary thought. The work of Byung-Chul Han has focused on phenomena of palpitating topicality, such as technology, the culture of hard work or the effects of the globalization of capitalism.

“Whoever fails in the neoliberal society of performance makes himself responsible and ashamed, instead of questioning society or the system. This is the special intelligence of the neoliberal regime. (…) In the neoliberal regime of self-exploitation one directs aggression towards oneself. This self-aggression does not make the exploited revolutionary, but depressive.”

– Byung-Chul Han-

Some of the most celebrated titles in Byung-Chul Han’s work are The Fatigue Society, The Agony of Eros, Topology of Violence and Psychopolitics: Neoliberalism and New Forms of Power, among others. In them, there are some concepts that stand out and that are configured as the axes of their way of seeing the world. Let’s deepen.

1. Self-exploitation

Much of Byung-Chul Han’s work is dedicated to reflecting on how we work today. In an interview with the newspaper El País, he summed up his thought in a really lapidary phrase. He says: “Now you exploit yourself and think you are doing it.”

For Byung-Chul Han, the current man unthinkingly follows a social mandate: do everything he CAN. Until a while ago, people did what they DID. Now the human being believes that he must achieve “success”, even at the expense of himself, and severely anguish if he does not succeed. Power does not have to whip it. Everyone submits to this regime of work and consumption, in a totally voluntary way.

2. Communication

In the work of Byung-Chul Han there are also constant allusions to the phenomena of communication, as we know them today. For him, relationships have been replaced by connections. What is established today is a link between sources of information scattered around the world.

Byung-Chul Han points out that without the physical presence of the other, there is no longer communication, but exchange of information. All the senses, except the sight, are falling into disuse. That is why, in part, the communication has noticeably weakened. In turn, people look only to their “peers”, those capable of giving like their own. Where is the difference then?

3. Garden, one of the key concepts in the work of Byung-Chul Han

Certainly, the concept of garden is not one of the most worked in philosophy. In the work of Byung-Chul Han has to do with the resistance to the impositions of the digital world. That sphere has a very diffuse and despicable materiality. As the philosopher says: “the digital thing does not weigh, it does not smell, it does not resist, you pass a finger and that’s it”.

In this way, the garden concept is a call to return to the concrete sensations. To smell, to feel, to feel … The South Korean thinker speaks of the “secret garden”, that reserved space in which once again one comes into contact with the material reality, not mediated by the digital. It is, in his opinion, a way to recover what he calls “original beauty”.

4. The other

The other is one of the concepts that is in crisis in today’s society. It seems that the only slogan is to match. The “tendencies” and “the viral” are manifestations of this desire to belong to a collective that marches in unison.

Says Byung-Chul Han that the more we are equal, the more production increases. In his opinion, the difference is contrary to the objectives of neoliberalism. If there were some that used smartphones and others that did not, the market would be harmed. Currently there is a radical conformism, an enormous passivity that reduces the human being to the condition of client or producer.

5. The weather

Time is another of those critical elements in today’s world. The philosopher says that a revolution in the use of time is necessary.

Do everything quickly and let it go as soon as it arrived. It is an attack against permanence.

For this thinker it is essential to recover personal time, that is, the time in which we dedicate ourselves to ourselves. Own time, outside the productive system. Recover the moments of leisure and moments for the party. Reserve time for the unproductive, not for the “pause” that makes the work more efficient.

Undoubtedly, the work of Byung-Chul Han is one of the richest and most interesting in the world today. And it is not just a work. He himself lives according to the postulates he preaches. What he seeks, above all, is to assert his being and his freedom.