[KS] How unequal is South Korea, really?

Michael Robinson robime at indiana.edu
Tue Aug 29 17:27:25 EDT 2006

Re: [KS] How unequal is South Korea, really?Dear List: 

I don't think Frank has to mianhamnida to anyone re: his statement about Korean propaganda.  The issue of who pays for research and what is said has been with us ever since academics took money to do research.  We fought with each other all through the 1980s about the appropriateness of taking money linked in any way to the ROK state.  People had all sorts of different attitudes about it from Jim Palais, never under any circumstances.....to if there is no attempt at influencing the outcome or what one says, what is the difference?  Funding sources don't have to be coersive or direct  because there is always the issue of the receiver not wanting to embarrass nor bite the hand that feeds.  Yes, the Korea Studies field exists at the current level because of U.S. strategic funding and Korea Foundation grants.  But having created a field, neither governmnet can really control the information generated.  At least there are more people now well-acquainted with the recent past and contemporary issues of Korea to go and speak, teach, and otherwise inform the public about this place.  When I was in graduate school in the 1970s Korean history was still basically relegated to Fairbank textbook, and it was only mentioned in a few courses at places that had someone doing Korea....not that many people. I worry that our younger scholars might be accepting the claptrap about "democratization" uncritically.  so it is refreshing to have a conversation about the inequalities of all sorts that remain.  There might be some procedural democracy evolving in the ROK but there is still a political systme that only speaks for a very narrow range of voices in the polity.  .....What I wonder is the point I thought I would make,,,,,,,perhaps it is that we need to continue our scholarship and build in depth knowledge (however narrowly couched)...but that we must also not abondon our own politics out of politeness.  

Mike Robinson 
  ----- Original Message ----- 
  From: Frank Hoffmann 
  To: Korean Studies Discussion List 
  Sent: Monday, August 28, 2006 8:34 PM
  Subject: Re: [KS] How unequal is South Korea, really?

  Dear All:

  Dr. Bertrand Renaud's rejoinder to Paul Shepherd (thanks for posting this, Young-Key) raises also some questions about Korean Studies.

  I think this is a highly interesting discussion because it touches on just so many important issues that go far beyond economics. Dr. Renaud, of course, has already expressed that in various ways in his posting.

  Inequality, economic, social, sexual inequality, *if* perceived as such, has always been the motor for political movements. When Dr. Renaud states that "[t]he land distribution issue in Korea is a major social issue by Korean choice" he basically seems to say that it is mostly the perception of inequality that drives people into the streets, whatever the Gini, Pini, or Winimini. In a country like Korea such perception then legitimizes certain kinds of political actions. Violent protest such as street fights or squatting, for example, are widely accepted as legitimate tools of political protest in Korean culture. Not so in the U.S., but again quite so in most of Europe! Conflict solving strategies and cultures in general, both in private and public, are quite different in Korea and the U.S. What I wonder about, though, is how exactly people come to their perceptions of inequality -- no doubt this seems to be culture-specific, to a large degree at least. How otherwise can we explain that hardly anyone in the U.S. really cares about such amazing facts: "the top one-tenth of one percent [that's 1", not 1% !] of the income distribution earned as much of the real increase in wage-and-salary income from 1997-2001 as the bottom 50 percent of the country" (NBER newsletter, as quoted by Dr. Renaud). Tell that some first graders and show them some photos and they will be shocked. But something is happening between first and 10th grade. Something very different seems to happen in Korea between 1st and 10th grade.

  In the late 60s and the 70s "interdisciplinary approaches" were very popular in the humanities. Personally, most such "interdisciplinary" works I had to read came across like cut & paste wisdom collections for Catholic youth groups. What really happened, however, is that Economics, Art History (not East Asian Art History), and many other fields -- not as much History, unfortunately -- incorporated methods from psychology and sociology into their disciplines. Economics or Art History, for example, does not need to be "interdisciplinary" therefore.

  Now ... what about Korean Studies, I mean Western Korean Studies as we all know it? What is that? And who needs it? What for? (Same question for Sinology/Chinese Studies and Japanology/Japanese Studies.) Is Korean Studies just a collective term to name studies related to Korea/n from the "real" disciplines, both the humanities and the hard sciences? Or is it Samsung's and the Korean Overseas Information Service's international arm to propagate things Korean? Mianhamnida ...mianhae, mianhae, I will never ever o it again, but this one time. Can Korean Studies, if it exists (it sure does in Europe) offer any answer to the inequality/culture complex that e.g. Economics as it exists as a discipline today cannot answer? If I am asking the wrong question, please let me know why.


  Frank Hoffmann
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