Surviving the hard times: Adjustment strategies of industrial workers in a post-crisis North Korean City

Andrei Lankov, In Ok Kwak, Seok Hyang Kim, Choong Bin Cho

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5 Scopus citations


The article deals with the everyday survival strategies employed by the workers of (largely non-functioning) state enterprises in post-socialist North Korea, and with the social changes this group has dealt with in the last two decades. It also compares these trends with the experiences of post-socialist Eastern Europe. In the 1990s the economic role of the North Korean state decreased dramatically. Official wages could no longer guarantee the physical survival of the populace, so workers from state industries engaged in a multitude of economic activities which were (and still are) largely related to the booming "second economy." These activities include private farming, employment in semi-legal and illegal private workshops, trade and smuggling, as well as small-scale business activities. The choice of a particular activity depends on a number of factors, of which network capital is especially significant. Income is also augmented by the illegal use of state resources and widespread theft of material and spare parts from state-owned factories. As a result of these changes, the industrial working class of North Korea, once a remarkably homogenous group, has fragmented, and its members have embarked on vastly different social trajectories.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)51-71
Number of pages21
JournalPacific Affairs
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2013


  • Coping strategy
  • Daily life
  • Kim Jong Il
  • North Korea
  • Post-communism
  • Post-socialism
  • Second economy


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