Georgetown Conference on Korean Society

The Georgetown Conference on Korean Society is a research and publishing project of the Department of Sociology, and the Korean Studies Program at Georgetown University. Initiated in 1993, the Conference has joined scholars from Asia and the United States in the effort to strengthen our understanding of Korean Society.

Dedicated from the outset to a comparative understanding of Korea within Asia, the conference has drawn on the scholarly resources of China, Japan, Thailand and Indonesia, as well as South Korea. Ranging among themes such as “corporatism,” “exchange theories,” “global value chains,” and “regional integration,” our goal has been the theoretical and comparative analysis of Korea. Differences East and West help clarify the utility of Western social scientific concepts for Asian society. At the same time research among Asian scholars at the conference prompts Western scholars to refine their own comparative frameworks. Similarly differences among Asian societies have been cited not to divide but to distinguish and better clarify indigenous structure and process.

Conference papers and discussions have moved between precedent and prospect, equally attentive to historical dynamics and contemporary dynamics drawing us forward. The conference welcomes quantitative and well as qualitative approaches, with a view towards original research with substantive data, rather than discussion papers. Our goal is policy-relevant research, cognizant of the pressing need for a better understanding of Korean society in policy forums and academia, as well as in markets.

Themes provide an introduction to the work of the conference. The conference began with “Corporatism and Korean Capitalism” in May of 1994. We continued in May of 1995 with the theme of “State and Civil Society.” The project turned to issues of “Trust and Industrial Transformation” in May of 1997. The financial crisis prompted attention to “Adjustment and Exchange” in December of 1999. Issues of modernity captured our interest in May of 2001 under the title of “Contending Forms of Korean Modernity.”

Asian regionalism in the new millennium brought new questions to the study of Korean society, and especially to often strained ties between Washington and Seoul. Responding to the changing environment, the conference developed the Georgetown Alliance Project to identify significant changes, and how these affect both precedent and prospect in Korea’s position in Asia. “From Commerce to Community – Korea’s Role in East Asia” provided the initial focus for conferences in December 2005 and December 2006 assessing directions of change.

Publications include a conference volume, Corporatism and Korean Capitalism (Routledge 1999), as well as a range of journal articles emanating from conference participation. Dennis McNamara, Park Professor of Sociology and Korean Studies, has served as founder and chair of the Conference over the past decade.