Korean State and the Rise of Civil Society: Comparative Perspectives

May 7-10, 1995

Recent changes in polity and market have turned the attention of scholars and policy-makers in Korea to issues of “civil society.” Yet whatever scholars may suggest about the growing role of civil groups, the Korean state retains remarkable leverage among business firms in decisions on credit, technology, and markets. Beyond firms, the state finds itself confronted with the growing expectations of numerous interest groups, particularly among the middle class, without substantive links to conventional political parties. And finally, the state continues to wrestle with the voice and representation of labor within firms and federations.

This second conference on Korean society at Georgetown University will look more closely to emerging links between state and civil society in the Republic beyond conventional political parties. We will examine the process of economic liberalization and political democratization within specific institutions, whether of labor, the middle class, or business. Our purpose is to specify such channels, and then draw them into a comparative context to better understand Korean society, and permit the Korean experience to broaden our comparative understanding of state and society.

Tracing the profile of recent changes in the Republic, we find distinctive styles of state-society ties, whether with the chaebol, the agricultural associations, labor unions or political parties. We hope to better define the embedded networks which permit exchange of ideas and common action between state and organized interests of civil society. Secondly, we will better describe the shape of a “public” in Korea mediating the official and private sectors of society, whether through “public opinion,” or through non-official fora which bring together both government and private organizations.

Three goals give direction to the papers and discussions of the conference. Our first goal is a better understanding of Korean society, and particularly of the blend of continuity and change often opaque to Western observers. A second goal is comparative, situating Korea in an Asian context with contrasts and comparisons from scholars of other Asian nations based in Asia. Thirdly, we are committed to drawing the Korean experience into a broader analytic field of state theory, and theories of civil society. A clearer understanding of the Korean experience will help us refine those theories and make the Korean case more accessible to a range of scholars beyond Koreanists or even Asianists.

Papers will be presented at the conference by scholars from Korea (3), Japan (1), Thailand (1) as well by Koreanists and theorists in the U.S. Our focus is academic, but our subject reflects policy-relevant issues of government and civil society in a capitalist democracy.

We hope to strengthen the academic enterprise in Korea, and bring the Korean experience into a broader international academic forum both among Asian scholars North and South, and among social scientists East and West. But we also provide a forum for sorting out emerging problems, possibilities, and challenges of both democratization and liberalization in the societies of northeast and southeast Asia. Conference papers chronicle and assess past and present, bringing the light of social theory to the Asian experience. Conference discussions join Asian scholars with Western colleagues to identify critical directions of research and policy development.

Georgetown University offers the research setting necessary for such efforts. As a leading academic institution among U.S. universities, Georgetown brings together a faculty with the necessary blend of interests and competences in languages, area studies, and social theory. The university remains somewhat smaller than major public universities, permitting closer ties among diverse fields such as law, business, and social science. Our conference, for instance, calls upon the interests and expertise of faculty from the School of Foreign Service, School of Business Administration, the Law School, and the College of Arts and Science. In addition to such strengths from the academy, Georgetown University likewise benefits from its location less than a mile from the U.S. Capitol and White House. The Georgetown Conference on Korean Society will draw upon specialists at institutions such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, as well as the U.S. Government to both ground our theoretical discussions and disseminate our conclusions.

2006: From Commerce to Community: Korea’s Role in East Asia
2005: From Commerce to Community: Korea’s Role in East Asia
2001: Contending Forms of Korean Modernity, Comparative Perspectives
1999: Adjustment and Exchange, Comparative Perspectives
1997: Trust & Individual Transformation in Korea, Comparative Perspectives
1995: Korean State and the Rise of Civil Society: Comparative Perspectives
1994: Capitalism and Corporatism in Korea: Comparative Perspectives