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Title:The discourse of sŏnjin’guk: South Korea’s Eurocentric modern identities and worldviews
Author(s):Kim, Jongtae
Director of Research:Nederveen-Pieterse, Jan
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Nederveen-Pieterse, Jan
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Denzin, Norman K.; Liao, Tim F.; Hay, James W.; Dill, Brian J.
Department / Program:Sociology
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):South Korea
national identity
advanced country
backward country
East Asia
the West
Abstract:Incorporated into the Eurocentric world order, Koreans have represented their national self and the world within the framework of Eurocentric discourses throughout the processes of modernization in changing global and national circumstances. What I call the discourse of sŏnjin’guk is a historically constructed knowledge system based upon the relations constructed around the concepts of sŏnjin’guk (advanced country) and hujin’guk (backward country). It has provided South Koreans with dominant interpretive frameworks of national identities and worldviews in their national developmental processes. One of its most notable characteristics is a hierarchical distinction between sŏnjin’guk and hujin’guk, in which the former has the latter as its alienated other. As an ideal image, sŏnjin’guk has played important roles in guiding the transformation of the Korean society, e.g., as an urgent national goal and central reference points. As previous research is rare, this dissertation aims to answer basic questions about the concept of sŏnjin’guk and a system of knowledge constructed around it. The primary foci of this dissertation lie on the basic assumptions, characteristics, formation and transformation, and historical backgrounds of the discourse of sŏnjin’guk. In particular, this study examines its central concepts, classificatory frameworks, contexts of use, and identity constructions; historical conditions of its formation and transformation; contestations over and challenges to it; and its comparison with neighboring East Asian countries’ dominant discourses. Grounded upon the theories of discourse, hegemony, developmentalism, and Eurocentrism in the global historical context, this study assumes that developmentalism is a global discursive construction reflecting Eurocentric worldviews in specific historical circumstances. Methodologically, this study employs the discourse analysis of newspaper texts as the main research method with semi-structured interview skills as supplementary one. As a contribution mainly to global studies, cultural studies, development studies as well as Korean studies, this dissertation shows the following major findings and arguments. First, the discourse of sŏnjin’guk is premised upon a distinction between sŏnjin’guk and hujin’guk, into which South Koreans have projected their positive and negative developmental values into them respectively. Second, the discourse has its historical root in the early modern discourses of kaehwa (enlightenment) and munmyŏng (civilization) in terms of Korea’s discursive responses to the Eurocentric world order. Third, the discourse has transformed its connotations and political implications in changing historical circumstances since its rise as a hegemonic discursive system supporting South Korean developmental regime in the 1960s. Fourth, the basic assumptions and ideas of the discourse are challenged and contested in a variety of ways by counter-developmentalist socio-economic groups. And last, the discourse shows South Koreans’ distinctive national identities and worldviews compared with Chinese and Japanese mainstream discourses on national identity.
Issue Date:2011-05-25
Rights Information:
Copyright 2011 Jongtae Kim
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-25
Date Deposited:2011-05

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