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From Politics to Academics: Political Activism and the Emergence of Science and Technology Studies in South Korea


Science and technology studies (STS) is now a mature field in many countries, and it is important to understand its historical and political roots in a wide variety of national contexts. The present contribution to such a vast project links a number of South Korean activist groups involved in a critical reflection upon science and technology in the 1970s and the 1980s to the academic developments of the STS field in the 1990s. A focus on the activist roots of South Korea’s STS counterbalances more institutional and less politicized histories of the field; it also enlightens the specificity of critical approaches to science in the context of an emerging power that was a military dictatorship. The authors describe how a group of students and professors, most of whom had been trained as scientists and engineers, created a discussion circle to foster a critical and political discourse on science. They then trace the emergence of the new field through the dissemination of texts and their reception. The academic aspects of Korean STS are then compared, over three periods, with similar currents in Europe and the United States. The conclusion shows that the critique of science that emerged in South Korea took a form substantially different from critiques elsewhere, linking this difference to political and institutional causes.