[KS] response to book review

dennis hart dhart at stark.kent.edu
Mon Nov 11 20:41:51 EST 2002

Dear List Members,

Recently my book From Tradition to Consumption: Construction of a
Capitalist Culture in South Korea was reviewed on the Korean Studies
List Serve by Robert Hassink. I would now like to respond to that

Upon reading the review, I was more than a little puzzled by what were
some fairly obvious mistakes. It was a bit hard to know where to begin
since there are so many things to say, so I decided to begin with an
area upon which Hassink and I obviously agree. In the second paragraph I
spotted an overview of my book. I found myself in total agreement with
the description, but then, that may not be surprising since he "wrote"
And my agreement did not end there. In subsequent paragraphs I was
treated to more of my own words, but with no acknowledgements at to
their sources. I agree that having one's words copied is the sincerest
form of flattery, but I am a bit perplexed by Hassink's selective use of
citations when writing his review.

Now to the areas where I disagree with Mr. Hassink. He believes my
"empirical data" is "thin" and not presented in a "in a robust and
convincing way." First off, unlike so many the "miracle on the Han"
books and articles, my book was designed to  foreground discourse
analyses and present a forum for many of the voices heretofore left
silent by the bulk of that literature. The empirical data I do use (and
with 450+ footnotes I used a lot) is INTENDED to take a back seat to
these voices. Second, in this way, my book contributes and joins the now
growing number of authors and scholars who use this approach to
understand the topic of cultural change during Korea's
industrialization. My book was not meant to "fill a gap," as stated by
Hassink, but to help redirect the methods and study of Korea into ways
that help us all escape the over reliance upon (if not overkill by)
"robust and convincing" empirical data. This aspect of the review,
therefore, missed the mark entirely.

Second, the reviewer bundles together questions on my use of statistics
on Korea's divorce rate, and, the limited number of interviews with
women in one section. Here he is simply wrong. On the former, he says
"two overlapping tables on divorce rates that contain contradictory
data." Well, I used two different sources (Roh Mihye and Byun Wha-soon)
and THEY provide the contradictory statistics. And THAT is why I
provided the reader with BOTH sets of information and I stated that they
were "different sets of figures." And by the way, though Mr. Hassink
said I didn't provide citations for my tables, he might do well to read
more carefully the sentences immediately preceding each table on
divorce. I both provided the authors names and footnoted the sources. A
final note on the subject of divorce statistics, it is not unusual to
get different divorce rates because the rates are estimates (calculated
by dividing the number of divorces by number of marriages) rather than
actual numbers.  Even the official statistics published by Tonggyechong
(the Statistical Bureau) are not necessarily 100% reliable, because
oftentimes there is a time gap between actual wedding and registration,
and there are a number of common-law unions.  

Concerning the comment that one section is "based solely on discussions
with six women." First, my book contains a great many interviews, as I
detail in my preface. Next, by simply citing the number of interviews
and NOT telling readers the exact context, it is impossible for a reader
of the review to know whether "six" is too few or not. The statement,
thereby, takes on an authority it does not deserve. Just to set the
record straight again, I was discussing the raising divorce rates in
Korea (32.1 percent in 1998) on page 98, and I then stated (page 99)
that "(m)y limited interviews with working, middle class women
corroborate these sobering figures." Obviously, the interviews do not
stand alone, as one might assume given the review's cursory and
incorrect portrayal of them. Instead, as with much of my book, I weave
together a variety of sources and voices, each complimenting and
expanding the others. (And, as I recall, Kim-Harvey's famous book on
shamanism, Six Korean Women, did a very good job with that number.)

Third, Mr. Hassink wonders about the "empirical material" (again?) since
a large portion of it is from the 1980s. My response? This appears to
contradict what he wrote in the preceding paragraph: ".explaining his
choice of Korea as a case study to focus on cultural change as a
companion of capitalist industrialisation and his emphasis on empirical
data from the 1980s." I fail to see how looking at 1980s data (cultural
evidence, research publications, and the textbooks from the 1980s) in
order to examine the 1980s time period is somehow inappropriate.  These
are the voices and representations of that period. Why not let the
persons living then speak of their own life? As I wrote in the book, I
chose to study that period since it was when Korean society began its
"shift to cultural modernity" (as was stated on that well-read dust
cover). It is the 1980s when Koreans most visibly went through a
cultural transformation and certain symptoms of this transition emerge
and clash obviously with "pre-modern life."  Finally on this point, the
review does not clearly show that I have added and updated much of the
findings with more recent data (such as demographic data and recent
literature) when it is necessary or helpful, such as with the divorce
rate I mentioned above.

Fourth, Mr. Hassink mentions how a random check of the footnotes
discovered errors of citation. Shocked! I was shocked to learn that a
book, in its first edition, would actually contain such errors. Well,
maybe shocked is not the right word here. The editors and I have already
found errors in the citations despite the fact that we combed through
the manuscript several times. (I have to confess, by the time this book
finally went to press, I had become sick and tired of reading and
re-reading it. And I don't think this is a rare occurrence among
scholars.) The solution? As would any author who finds such errors, I
will make sure the citations will be corrected in the second printing.
Already I have begun the task of compiling and listing errors, typos and
such. And,  (please forgive the shameless plug here) the second edition
of my book will be include additional interviews, updated data, a two
week seminar on gender held at Seoul National University in the summer
of 2002, and more pictures from textbooks and  women's magazines.

Finally in this response, I wish to deal with a deeper assumption that
underlies Hassink's review, and I do so since it has implications for
the field of Korean Studies as a whole. Hassink judged, on the three
points above, that this book's weaknesses exceed its strengths, and
considering the deficits, he decided that this book did not deserve to
pass as "a published PhD thesis, let alone a work that has been
recognised as a distinguished academic book" selected by Korea's
National Academy of Sciences earlier this year.  Putting aside questions
on this remark's tone, inappropriateness, and unprofessionalism, with
this statement, Mr. Hassink implies that Koreans, even at those at the
NAS (Korea's most prestigious academic body), are less capable of
judging their society and culture than he, a foreigner who studies
Korea. This is an assumption I have seen a number of Koreanists adopt
(particularly by a number of those doing economic/developmental studies)
and I have strong objections to such a view for obvious reasons. A key
point of my book was to rethink such questionable assumptions and
representations, though I think I said this in the preface and not the
dust cover.  

Dennis Hart
Associate Professor
Political Science Department
Kent State University
Canton, Ohio 44720
dhart at kent.edu

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