Territorial Politics and the Rise of a Construction-Oriented State in South Korea

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Park, Bae Gyoon
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Center for Social Sciences, Seoul National University
Korean Social Sciences Review(KSSR) Vol. 1, No. 1, pp. 185-220
Construction StateNew developmentalismPolitics of develTerritorializationStrategic relational approachState space
Translated from the published article in Space and Environmemt 31: 49-87, 2009 with permission from the The Korean Association of Space and Environment Research.
There have been some critical debates about the construction-oriented, developmentalist
nature of the Korean state among the Korean scholars. However, no clear explanation has
emerged for why the Korean state adopted such construction-oriented, developmentalist
selectivity. This paper seeks to answer this question of why the construction-oriented state
has developed in South Korea by employing the strategic-relational approach to the state. In
this paper, the author argues that the construction-oriented, developmentalist nature of the
Korean state has been strengthened because at the local and regional scales, highly politicized
territorial interests have been mobilized as a result of complex interactions among spatial
selectivity of the Korean state, uneven regional development and territorialized party politics
from the 1960s to the present. More specifically, the author emphasizes that the following
conditions were the most influential in the formation and intensification of constructionoriented
state building: 1) As the central cleavage structure of party politics is based on
locality, parties and politicians easily accept local developmental politics, and thereby
influence governmental decision-making according to regional interests; 2) Due to the weak
development of class politics (at the national scale) and immature grass-root democracy (at
the local scale), place-based interests and identities tend to be strongly territorialized; 3)
Continuing from the 1970s and influenced by the politics of regionalism, the ways in which
the Koreans interpret the political and economic realities has been constructed on the basis
of the discursive frame of the highly politicized “center-local” relations, which has led to
the intensified inter-local/inter-regional competition for the central government’s spending
on local/regioinal development projects. Based on this analysis, this paper argues that the
situation of South Korea’s neo-developmentalism and construction-oriented tendency needs
to be understood through the mechanisms of more complex political, social, and economic
conflicts and interaction effects among social forces acting in and through the state, and that
the question cannot be explained simply by the ‘irrationality, incapacity, and immorality’ of the government and its officials.
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College of Social Sciences (사회과학대학)Center for Social Sciences (사회과학연구원)Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR)Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR) Vol.01, No.01 (2011)
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