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Korean Exceptionalism: Political Cleavages in South Korea

August 24, 2012 - 16:15-18:00

Guest lecture by Prof. Sonn Hochul, Sogang University, South Korea

In many ways, the socio-political make-up of contemporary South Korea might be considered somewhat exceptional. Located on the Cold War frontline, it was distinguished by the viciousness of the prevailing anti-Communist political regime; at the same time, however, its strategic position gave it certain leverage vis-à-vis the USA, which had to acquiesce to its neo-mercantilist politico-economical regime. This regime, in turn, guaranteed breakneck tempos of the economic growth, a degree of upward mobility opportunities for the members of the subaltern groups and general prevalence of the state-corporatist mode of organization. Such a socio-political make-up prevented any independent political organization of the working class, which began to take shape only in the late 1990s-early 2000s. Even then, however, it was weakened by the regionalist divisions prevailing in the politics of post-authoritarian South Korea.  

In this presentation it will be argued, however, that South Korea’s exceptionalism may be on wane in the future. As neo-mercantilism was substituted by neo-liberalism, social polarisation grows and upward social mobility is blocked, class voting by the workers may be more likely in the perspective, in case South Korea’s progressives will be able to resolve their internal problems, partly related to the domination of certain sectors of progressive politics by the left-nationalist fractions sympathetic to North Korea and low levels of the political class consciousness in the mainstream labour movement.

Prof. Sonn Hochul is a political scientist well known for his works on South Korean politics in general and on progressive and labour politics in particular. Currently, he serves as the Dean, School of Social Sciences/ Graduate School of Public Policy, Sogang University (Seoul, South Korea) as well as the Dean, School of Integrated Knowledge (Art &Technology, Global Korean Studies) and the Director, Sogang Global Korea Initiative at the same university. He received his PhD from the University of Texas in Austin (1987) and published a number of articles in English, including: “Neoliberalism and Democracy in South Korea”, – Korean Political Science Review (2010), “The Post Cold War World Order and Domestic Conflict in South Korea: Neo-liberal and Armed Globalization” in Empire and Neoliberalism in Asia (Routledge, 2006), “Conceptual Issues and Peculiarities of Korean Democracy”. – Korea Focus. (2004) etc. He also served as vice-president of the Korean Political Science Association (2005) and heads a number of other academic and civic society groups.

Venue: Seminarrom 1, PAM, Blindern, Oslo

Organizer: Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages, Oslo University

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Korean Exceptionalism: Political Cleavages in South Korea


August 24, 2012