[KS] How unequal is South Korea, really?

Gabriel.Jonsson at orient.su.se Gabriel.Jonsson at orient.su.se
Wed Aug 30 04:03:06 EDT 2006

Dear List,

It is very interesting to read opinions on the 
important issue of equality in South Korea. I 
have no empirical data to add but let me say that 
I have never met any South Korean outside the 
academic world who agree with the World Bank's 
view that the country has combined high growth 
and equal income distribution. On the contrary, 
it happens that South Koreans volunatarily raise 
the issue of inequality, although to be fair it 
is rather in terms of wealth than in income.

To me, equality has also a cultural dimension and 
in this respect I must say that Confucianism has 
nothing at all to do with equality. The cultural 
inequality is reenforced by the ranking of 

Gabriel Jonsson

>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 
>Mike Robinson
>----- Original Message -----
>From: <mailto:frank at koreaweb.ws>Frank Hoffmann
>To: <mailto:koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws>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" 
>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
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://koreanstudies.com/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreanstudies.com/attachments/20060830/5c831015/attachment.html>

More information about the Koreanstudies mailing list