[KS] History's twists

Ruediger Frank rf2101 at columbia.edu
Mon Sep 9 12:30:43 EDT 2002

Dear list,

thank you for this interesting thread. I am learning a lot, especially from 
the unemotional part of the discussion. Thanks, Aidan, for waking the list up.

In neoclassical economic theory there is the concept of methodological 
individualism, meaning that at the core of any social science research 
there should be the individual as the smallest unit. Karl R. Popper of the 
Austrian School wrote in 1945 (translation and errors mine): "all social 
phenomena, especially the functioning of social institutions, should always 
be understood as a result of the decisions, actions and attitudes of human 
individuals; we should never be satisfied with an explanation based on 
so-called 'collectives' (states, nations, races etc.)"
Popper, Karl R. (1992): Die offene Gesellschaft und ihre Feinde, Vol. II: 
Falsche Propheten: Hegel, Marx und die Folgen, 7. Aufl., Tuebingen, p. 116, 
cited in: Behrends, Sylke: Neue Politische Oekonomie, Muenchen: Vahlen 
2001, p. 5

The main argument is that apart from basic desires and the resulting 
motives for human actions that we all share universally, there is a 
strictly personalized set of values and motives which depends on the single 
individual's unique life experience and therefore per definition can hardly 
be found twice in a society. The implications are manifold; the include a 
negation of any chance to predict human behavior perfectly and a strong 
distrust in creating and working with aggregates. "Koreans" would be one of 
the latter. On the other hand, and this is the real problem, we need such 
aggregates to be able to work at all. Otherwise we would have to get the 
opinion of every single Korean on the issue, which would among others pose 
the challenge of defining who would qualify as "Korean". There is no 
perfect solution to this dilemma; the best we can get is a good estimate, 
by keeping aggregates as small and their number as large as possible, and 
by constantly challenging our results. For the problem as discussed on the 
list, I suggest a subdivision of "Koreans" into a handy number of groups 
and a subdivision of time into a handy number of periods. Obviously, that 
is what you were actually doing (academics, historians, certain schools of 
thought among the historians, outside Korea specialists, thought of the 
1920s and 1930s, thought of the 1990s etc.). I just wanted to remark that 
this is an established technique.

Finally, may I add a personal note: Since August 2002, you can reach me at 
Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and the 
East Asian Institute in New York, not at Humboldt University Berlin anymore.


Ruediger Frank

Footnote: A normative approach can't be objective, since it is based on a 
fixed set of criteria over which one could endlesssly debate. That could 
tempt a sincere academic to reject such subjectivism. On the other hand, 
life would be boring if none of us would take a stand, wouldn't it?
Columbia University
East Asian Institute
International Affairs Building
420 West 118th Street, MC 3333
New York, NY 10027
- USA -
Phone: (212) 85 49 206
Fax: (212) 74 91 497
email: rf2101 at columbia.edu

>This e-mail is confidential and may contain privileged information.  It may
>be read, copied and used only by the intended recipient.  If you have
>received this email in error, please contact the sender immediately by
>return e-mail. Please then delete the e-mail and do not disclose its
>contents to any person.  Any legally binding declaration needs to be
>confirmed in writing via letter or telefax for it to become valid.

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list