Jesook SONG

Shifting technologies: Neoliberalization of the welfare state in South Korea, 1997—2001 (2003)


This dissertation is about the neoliberal (sinjayujuûi) transformation of South Korean welfare governance at the historical juncture in which the IMF Crisis converged with Kim Dae Jung presidency. I conducted my research as a member of a temporary research team that assisted the Seoul City Committee for Unemployment Policy, an emergency council created in response to the Crisis. The thesis argues that the South Korean emergency was managed by various social agents or “crisis knowledge brokers.” These social agents include governmental managers, experts from academic and research institutions, social activists and social workers, journalists, and Public Works Program workers. The thesis analyzes these social agents’ narratives of objects and subjects of IMF-related programs and aid, such as IMF homeless people and New Intellectuals. Central to the crisis knowledge brokers are reference to “family breakdown” and “(un)deserving welfare subjects”–moralistic rationales that delineate “deservedness” vis-à-vis the boundaries of normative social life. Whether or not these social agents were directly involved in the process of making, implementing, or practicing Seoul City emergency welfare policies, these “governmental,” “semi-governmental,” and “non-governmental” agents all contributed in various ways and degrees to the construction of neoliberal welfare citizenship. Building upon literature on neoliberal governmentality, which understands neoliberalism as a social ethos having gained wide explanatory power, rather than an economic doctrine, this thesis argues that state institutions are not the sole agencies that govern the social and the state. Nonetheless, the thesis argues that state institutional power is significant because the exertion of state institutional authority and control on civilians has been shifting from direct regulation to indirect influence. In addition, South Korea has successfully incorporated a post-welfare or workfare state not long after having established the first long-term planned welfare state based on a social norm that poses family as the primary institution responsible for individual well being. Neoliberal emergency governance in South Korea during the Crisis deployed both through liberal governance through collectivities (e.g., the discourse on family breakdown and nationalistic campaigns) as well as through individuals (e.g., the discourse on new intellectuals).