How Democratic Is Korean Democracy?

photo: Wonik KimEast-West Cen­ter POSCO Vis­it­ing Fel­low Wonik Kim will present a talk titled “How Demo­c­ra­t­ic Is Kore­an Democ­ra­cy? Extra-Par­lia­men­tary Pol­i­tics in Com­par­a­tive Per­spec­tive” Thurs­day, May 22, 2014, from 12 noon to 1:00 p.m. in Burns Hall room 3012.

Kim’s pre­sen­ta­tion will look at the con­cept of “civ­il soci­ety,” which is cur­rent­ly in vogue. A flour­ish­ing civ­il soci­ety in Korea is con­sid­ered to have helped bring down the dic­ta­tor­ship. Yet, Korea has the small­est wel­fare state among advanced cap­i­tal­ist coun­tries, and an increas­ing num­ber of peo­ple are exposed to mar­ket-relat­ed social risks under hyper-glob­al­iza­tion.

The con­ven­tion­al view sug­gests that Korea’s lack of a decent social safe­ty net must be attrib­uted to its weak civ­il soci­ety. Counter to this con­ven­tion­al wis­dom, Kim argues that an exces­sive­ly strong civ­il soci­ety in Korea has actu­al­ly helped scut­tle the con­sol­i­da­tion of democ­ra­cy under which var­i­ous soci­etal demands can be mate­ri­al­ized. While Kore­an democ­ra­cy has made grad­ual progress in estab­lish­ing and sus­tain­ing com­pet­i­tive elec­tions since the 1987 demo­c­ra­t­ic tran­si­tion, it has sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly failed to pro­duce any mean­ing­ful social wel­fare pro­vi­sion. Kore­an democ­ra­cy is min­i­mal­ist par excel­lence but devoid of socioe­co­nom­ic sub­stances. The gap between this rel­a­tive­ly long prac­tice of for­mal democ­ra­cy and lit­tle progress in achiev­ing sub­stan­tive democ­ra­cy lies in the chron­ic lacu­na of polit­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, which stems from the dis­joint­ed dichoto­my of weak par­ty pol­i­tics and strong move­ment pol­i­tics, what Kim calls extra-par­lia­men­tary pol­i­tics.

Wonik Kim is asso­ciate pro­fes­sor of polit­i­cal sci­ence and asso­ciate direc­tor of the Inter­na­tion­al Stud­ies Pro­gram at Louisiana State Uni­ver­si­ty. He spe­cial­izes in com­par­a­tive pol­i­tics and polit­i­cal econ­o­my with par­tic­u­lar empha­sis in East Asia. His research focus­es on glob­al­iza­tion, the pol­i­tics of socioe­co­nom­ic devel­op­ment, and state-soci­ety rela­tions. He is cur­rent­ly work­ing on a book project about the his­to­ry of cap­i­tal­ism in East Asia.