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Reviewed by:
  • Modern Korean Society: Its Development and Prospect
  • Yoonkyung Lee (bio)
Modern Korean Society: Its Development and Prospect, edited by Hyuk-Rae KimBok Song. Korea Research Monograph 30. Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 2007. 257 pp. $20.00 paper.

This book is an introductory survey textbook on modern Korean society. As the editors of the book acknowledge, anyone who has taught universitylevel courses on Korea, including myself, has been confronted with a [End Page 203] problem of locating appropriate teaching materials. Existing books have been too historical and descriptive without critical analyses while journal articles have often been loaded with field-specific jargon. This volume addresses these deficiencies by putting together eleven chapters written by established scholars in Korean studies. It is foremost an excellent compilation of chapters that discuss the key issues of Korea’s political, economic, and social development. This means that instructors don’t have to run here and there to photocopy or scan the reading materials scattered in academic journals and edited volumes. Another definite merit of this book is that the contributing authors are must-read scholars who have established expertise in each area of Korean studies. With this edited volume, teachers and students who are engaged in understanding the complexities of modern Korea will benefit from the authors’ comprehensive and theoretical exposition of diverse issues that have arisen along the contours of Korea’s development.

Two chapters, in particular, Yonghak Kim’s “Regionalism and National Networks” and Seung-Kyung Kim’s “Family, Gender and Sexual Inequality,” present new perspectives to the understanding of Korean society that are not easily available in other edited volumes. The former analyzes the operation of particularistic networks that have been a distinctive feature of social relations in Korea, while the latter surveys the dynamics of changing gender relations.

This book, however, is not without its shortcomings. First of all, it seems too ambitious in the historical span of its coverage. Most of the chapters begin from the colonial period and cover up to contemporary time. This is obviously too much for eleven chapters altogether written within fewer than 250 pages. This does not allow enough space for each chapter to develop beyond sketchy descriptions.

Another aspect I would have wanted to see in this edited volume is a comparative evaluation of Korean society, which to my perspective is one of the enduring weaknesses of the literature on Korean studies. Without referring to Giovanni Sartori’s famous phrase that “the one who knows only one country knows no country,”1 Korean scholars have been slow in placing the process of Korea’s modernization in a comparative context and identifying general trends as well as its uniqueness. An introductory chapter that provides how Korea’s development has been similar to and different from the contours of other countries would have served as an informative navigating tool for beginning students interested in investigating modern Korean society.

This volume would have been further improved if an additional chapter had been assigned to Korea’s division and reunification issues. Although Hyuk-Rae Kim mentions in his introductory chapter that national [End Page 204] reunification has been one of the three national projects (along with economic development and political democratization), there is only one chapter on this critical issue. Bruce Cumings’s chapter on division and reunification is informative but ends short without deeper discussion on the politics of division that has shaped the social and economic trajectories of the two Koreas. Another chapter that discusses the impact of division and political and popular efforts for reunification from the both sides of the 38th parallel could have been an informative addition.

Another disappointment with the volume is its stinginess in providing current data. Most of the statistical data that appear in various chapters end in the late 1990s or early 2000 at best. Considering the swift changes taking place in every aspect of Korean society in recent years (and the relative convenience in accessing statistical data nowadays), the authors could have presented more updated statistical information that reflects these dynamics. Statistical numbers cannot substitute for critical analyses of complex processes of Korea’s development, but they often serve as highly...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 203-205
Launched on MUSE
2009-02-13
Open Access
No
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