Democracy in Myth: The Politics of Precariatization in South Korea

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After undergoing a series of mass demonstrations during the past three decades, including the 2016-2017 candlelight protests that led to the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, many commentators in South Korea are confident that their country has become a land for what Karl Marx called "free men." Korean citizens are portrayed as being ready to participate in voluntary political associations and collective actions and to pursue their interests in the public sphere. However, the data are showing the opposite to be true: citizen participation in public-sphere activities has substantially decreased since the mid-2000s, while the government has managed to improve or at least maintain its political responsiveness during the same period. Explaining the unnoticed background to this imbalance, this essay sheds light on the myth of the benefactor state in Korean democracy, arguing that this has emerged because neoliberalism has not only placed an increasing number of people in precarious positions but also neutralized them politically. The Korean government has capitalized on this situation to mythicize itself as a benefactor state that possesses an incomparable administrative capacity to take care of precarious people. By investigating the period of Park's presidency (2013-2017) and the current rule of President Moon Jae-in (2017-), this essay shows how the myth of the benefactor state has emerged and created a unique cycle of Korean democracy.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1950001
JournalIssues and Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2019

Bibliographical note

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© 2019 Issues & Studies.


  • Precariatization
  • South Korea
  • democracy
  • myth
  • the benefactor state


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