Progressives and Labor under Park Chung Hee: A Forgotten Alliance in 1960s South Korea


Thursday, September 27, 2012, 4:30pm to 6:30pm


Belfer Case Study Room (S020), CGIS South Building, 1730 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Wagner Special Lecture

Event Poster

Hwasook Nam, James B. Palais Endowed Associate Professor in Korea Studies, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies and the Department of History, University of Washington

Hwasook Nam teaches courses on Korean history and East Asian labor history at the University of Washington. She received her M.A. from Seoul National University and her Ph.D. from the University of Washington, both in Korean history. Her book, Building Ships, Building a Nation: Korea’s Democratic Unionism under Park Chung Hee (University of Washington Press, 2009) won the James B. Palais Prize of the Association for Asian Studies in 2011.

Chaired by Sun Joo Kim, Harvard-Yenching Professor of Korean History; Director, Korea Institute

Using an unusual case of a democratic and militant shipbuilding union in 1960s South Korea as a window on society, this talk explores the politics and ethos of the first decade of Park Chung Hee’s rule. What made it possible for workers at the Korea Shipbuilding and Engineering Corporation (KSEC) in Pusan to build a powerful trade union under authoritarian rule? Pronounced public support for the union in the region, dense links between the unionists and local progressives, and the surprisingly optimistic and positive expectations of the military government that shipyard workers exhibited in this period all call our attention to the fluid terrain of South Korean politics before the advent of the full-blown authoritarianism of the 1970s. During the 1960s elements of both elites and non-elites engaged themselves in an energetic search for the best answers to major postcolonial questions of democracy, development, and modernization. By looking at a case of active negotiations between state actors, progressives, and workers during the first decade of Park’s rule in Pusan, away from the national center of Seoul, this talk explores the possibilities of bottom-up consent and alternative imaginings of South Korean development and democratization that have largely been forgotten.

Supported by the Edward Willett Wagner Memorial Fund at the Korea Institute, Harvard University

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