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The Korean Kye : Maintaining Human Scale in a Modernizing Society Gerard F. Kennedy KENT STATE UNIVERSITY IT is doubtful whether any human group solves its organizational problems only on the basis of its own heritage of experience. Nevertheless, to maintain a unique society and culture in which technical and economic development is combined with social satisfaction, it may be crucial for a society to sustain a sense of continuity with its own heritage of experience. Such a sense ofcontinuity may be sustained by formal and often conscious adherence to traditional structures or ideologies, for example, samuraization in Japan (Befu 1971, p. 52), or by a less formal, more spontaneous rearticulation of familiar patterns of behavior so that what, in many respects, is a new organizational development appears to be a continuation of traditional experience, for example, managerial paternalism in Japan (Befu 1971, p. 136). This article is concerned with a grass-roots organization in Korea which illustrates the rearticulation of traditional patterns of experience. It relates to what are called, in cross-cultural terminology, rotating credit associations. It is an attempt, first, to show that rotating credit associations in Korea rearticulate a long-standing pattern of cooperative economic behavior in the heritage of Korean experience and, second, to show that in an urban context initiation of rotating credit associations may spontaneously generate strategic processes of organization related to development and urbanization. A General Class of Traditional Organization Rotating-credit associations in Korea belong to a general class of cooperative economic organization which can easily be identified by most Koreans. The term kye is used to designate this general class of behavior, 197 198GERARD F. KENNEDY but is very often used by ordinary people also in reference to specific variations within the class. The word itself means "contract" or "bond." Although it might be rendered as "association," there is no unambiguous English equivalent. It is more useful to learn what is involved in the Korean use of the term rather than to attempt to translate it. Analysts of this behavior have attempted to eliminate ambiguity by devising more specific terminology, some of which will be introduced. It should not be thought, however, that ordinary people resolve ambiguities with the same terminology . In concrete circumstances such ambiguity is more often resolved by having references to specific situations with which all parties are familiar. As a general class of cooperative organization, the kye has a long history on the Korean peninsula. The actual history of the specific type of kye which falls into the category of rotating credit is rather obscure. Perhaps the most notable historical account of kye was written by a Korean scholar, Professor Sam Su Kim (1964). He presents several theories about the origin of kye in early Korean society. One of the most interesting is that kye began about eight to ten centuries ago at a time when the centers of despotic power were developing. The kye was then a grass-roots attempt to retain a remnant of village and clan autonomy (Kim 1964, pp. 125-128, 307). In addition to historians, scholars from other disciplines have reported on the kye. Since it is not my purpose to survey the literature on the subject, only two previous studies are of particular interest here. They supply sufficient data to describe the pattern revealed in the general class of kye organization as well as the specific pattern that is rearticulated in the kind of kye that may be called rotating-credit associations. In the late fifties, four ethnosociological surveys of villages in south-central Korea were undertaken (Mills 1960). Ki Back Nam, author of the report on a village called Nopunto (Mills 1960, pp. 1-43) speaks of the uichin kye and does not hesitate to state that this is a mutual-aid society or club "existing in every Korean village." No information is available on the range of variations and combinations of objectives and methods used in organizing this kye in various places. However, the Nopunto case as described by Nam is very likely typical. Fundamentally, a üichin kye is a group organized for the purpose of mutual aid in the event that a parent in one of the member...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-1529
Print ISSN
0145-840X
Pages
pp. 197-222
Launched on MUSE
2011-03-30
Open Access
No
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