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Reviewed by:
  • Corporatism and Korean Capitalism
  • Timothy C. Lim (bio)
Corporatism and Korean Capitalism, edited by by Dennis L. McNamara. Routledge Studies in the Growth Economies of Asia 24. London and New York: Routledge, 1999. 168 pp. $75.00 cloth.

Corporatism and Korean Capitalism is a relatively short but substantial volume that, according to the book's editor, "presses the debate on Korean political economy forward by staking out the corporatist thesis" (pp. 1–2). In so doing, the book's four contributors—Dennis McNamara, T. J. Pempel, Im Hyug Baeg, and Larry Burmeister—are mainly concerned with pushing the study of South Korea's political and economic transition "from description to analysis" and with encouraging "a more careful analysis of theoretical alternatives for interest contention in Korean capitalism" (p. 2). Corporatism and Korean Capitalism, in this regard, is not written strictly for the Koreanist, although scholars specializing in Korean studies will no doubt find the book useful. The book is also written for students of corporatism and for students of comparative politics more generally. Indeed, Corporatism and Korean Capitalism possibly offers as much to a non-Koreanist—in both theoretical and empirical terms—as it does to a Korea specialist. The book itself is composed of eight chapters, although chapters 1 and 8 (the introduction and conclusion respectively) primarily offer summaries of the other, more substantive chapters. Of these six chapters, one provides an overview of Korean corporatism from a comparative perspective (chapter two), two are theoretically-oriented chapters on the corporatist thesis (chapters three and four), and three provide case studies of industrial relations, the textile industry and agriculture respectively (chapters five, six and seven).

Chapter 2, by McNamara, begins with a deceptively simple question: "Can corporatism help explain the enigma of growth and decline in Korean capitalism?" (p. 9). Not surprisingly, McNamara's answer to this question is yes. More interesting than his answer, though, is his reasoning for why this is so. According to McNamara, it is not because corporatism is necessarily superior to other theoretical concepts, but because it provides a much needed alternative framework through which to analyze various aspects of South Korea's political and economic development. Embracing alternative frameworks, according to McNamara, is important if only because it encourages scholars to test multiple theories, rather than to rely on a single concept, such as the "developmental [End Page 140] state." McNamara, however, is not content portraying corporatism as just an alternative framework; instead, he argues that it has already helped to provide important insights on the state and society in South Korea and promises "to further identify significant parallels and discrepancies between the comparative concept and the specific Korean case" (p. 3). I might also note that, in addition to making a strong case for a corporatist analysis of South Korea political economy, McNamara provides a very concise review and critique of the literature on South Korean development in this chapter.

T. J. Pempel's chapter, aptly titled "The Enticement of Corporatism: Appeals of the 'Japanese Model' in Developing Asia," is the only one of the eight chapters not specifically focused on South Korea. Despite this, the chapter fits in quite well with the other chapters. It is also—at least to this reviewer—the most enjoyable of the chapters to read. Like McNamara, Pempel starts his chapter with a deceptively simple question: "How do we catch up?" (p. 26). Pempel's main objective, however, is not to answer his question, but to underscore the practical—as opposed to conceptual—appeal of corporatism: of those countries that have "caught up," almost all have had one or another version of corporatist political economies. From this starting point, Pempel then provides a quick review of corporatism in Western Europe and Japan. While he does not offer any original insights in this review, Pempel does succeed in highlighting the most significant differences between the Western European and Japanese versions of corporatism, and in so doing, offers a convincing argument for why corporatism may still be a relevant model for late industrializing countries. This, in fact, is the main point of Pempel's chapter. This does not mean, I should emphasize, that Pempel believes Japan and...


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