Saturday, February 23, 2013

Reading :: The Republic of Korea

The Republic of Korea: Economic Transformation and Social Change
By David I. Steinberg

Writing in 1989, David Steinberg describes the history and economic transformation of the Korean peninsula, focusing on the Republic of Korea (also known as South Korea). Bear in mind that the book is written before the pivotal year of 1997, when an economic crisis set in motion far-reaching changes in how the Republic governs itself and manages its economy.

It's no easy task to summarize the history of a culture that spans 4000BC to the present day, but Steinberg does a credible job. After some introductory work, he covers early history (Chapter 3), traditional Korea from 1392-1904 (Chapter 4), the Japanese colonial period of 1904-1945 (Chapter 5), and the six Korean republics from 1945-1989 (Chapter 6). The remainder of the book describes Korean history and culture (Chapter 7), its politics and administration (Chapter 8), the role of the military (Chapter 9), its economic development from 1953-1986 (Chapter 10), its external relations (Chapter 11), and its future (Chapter 12).

Steinberg obviously has great affection for Korea—which I appreciated—but he doesn't minimize its difficulties. Nevertheless, the book ends on a positive note, one that foresaw some of the extraordinarily positive developments that the ROK has achieved since 1989.

Let's pick out some highlights. Korean culture seems to have taken "the clan as the basic element of social organization" since the late Neolithic (p.20). Although the Korean peoples appear to have descended from Siberians (p.19), Korea was strongly influenced and often dominated by China from 194 BC onward (p.21). The Han Dynasty conquered Korea in 108 BC, establishing the Lolang (or Nangnang) period, which "lasted several hundred years" (p.21). And "During this period, there developed a set of tribally organized states or groupings that eventually fused into what has become Korea. These were Puyo in the north and Mahan, Chinhan, and Pyonhan in the south" (p.21). Korea developed three city-states: Koguryo (founded 37 BC), Paekche (founded 18 BC), and Silla (founded 57 BC). Once "Koguryo ousted the Chinese in 313" (p.21), these city-states developed into the "three kingdoms," eventually uniting under Silla (p.22).

Korea, located near China and Siberia on one side and Japan on the other, acted as "a transmission belt, receiving and exporting culture and technology in the region" (p.22). Japan received much of its early culture, including Buddhism and art, through Paechke (p.22).

Steinberg says:
All three kingdoms showed a strong tendency toward patrilinial and hierarchical power. All were centralized, aristocratic states, with a very strong tradition, perhaps best known in Silla but apparently common in the area, of rank based on hereditary principles. In Silla, this was called "bone rank," and it influenced all forms of social and political behavior. The Silla aristocracy was organized into gradations of seventeen ranks, with only the top rankings allowed to have effective power. (p.25)
Indeed, as Steinberg later explains in the chapter on politics and administration, "Hierarchy is integral to the Confucian tradition and exceptionally pervasive. ... This sense of hierarchy is reflected in the Korean language itself, which like Japanese (but unlike Chinese) requires a complex system of grammatic and lexographic honorifics that expressly designate the relative status of each person referred to or involved in a conversation" (p.93). But hierarchy goes beyond the Confucian tradition:
The pre-Confucian social order was, in fact, more hierarchical than the Confucian ideal. Early Korean states were organized along rigid class differentiations based on "bone rank," or a hereditary system that eventually evolved into the yangban system. In this class of both civilian and military gentry, the civilians dominated. The yangban—the backbone of the political, governmental, moral, and social order—originally claimed status on the basis of aristocratic lineage, and then on their scholastic, and thus bureaucratic, standing. (p.93)
In fact, only the yangban could take the examinations that would allow them entry into the bureaucracy, resulting in a self-perpetuating upper class.

Steinberg saw this strong bureaucratic tradition as influencing Korea up to his day. In fact, he says, "The existence of an autonomous private sector in Korea, whether it be in education or in business, is arguable; nongovernmental or quasi-governmental might be a more accurate description of this sector. Public-private collaboration, with government in the lead, is the most usual form of action" (p.96). Furthermore, "power is generally considered finite," making power a zero-sum game: "to share power is to diminish one's power and one's position; to delegate it is to lose it" (p.98).

Understanding that tendency helps us to understand the chaebol, the clan-based conglomerates (e.g.,  Samsung, LG, Hyundai, SK) that developed during the Park regime of 1961-1979. "Because the chaebol were in debt to government-sponsored or approved institutions for more than four times the value of their equity assets (much higher than the debt of average Korean concerns and far higher than that of most compatible firms in other countries), state direction and intervention, culturally reinforced by traditional Korean and Confucian concepts of state power, were pronounced" (p.135).

Steinberg discusses a great deal more, including the sometimes rocky internal relations of the ROK and the similarly strained relations with the US and Japan. But let's leave the book here. It's a solid, sympathetic book that crams an improbable amount of information into its 218 pages. If you're interested in the history and culture of the ROK—up to 1989—this is a good place to start.

Topsight > How Chris is using Topsight

Last week I asked how people were using my new book Topsight. Recently I heard from Chris McCracken at Kent State. He was gracious enough to allow me to post some excerpts.

First, Chris is using parts of Topsight for his undergraduate business and professional writing class:
I have them work in groups to conduct sort of mini-studies of workplaces where they're required to design a study that involves interviewing a person who works there at least twice, observing him or her at work at least once, and collecting some artifacts.  They have to put all that together in an analysis of how information circulates in that organization and what their participant's role is in that process of circulation.  Sadly, Topsight came out just a little late in the semester for me to assign it to them, but I've been highlighting certain especially useful heuristics from the book to help them along. 
I began by having each group draft a research design matrix to understand why we're using the methods I'm requiring them to use--what they can expect to get out of conducting interviews and observations and collecting artifacts.  I'm meeting with each group individually over the coming week, and I plan on discussing coding with them and providing them with the analytical models for mapping resources and looking for handoff chains so they can get a better idea of how they might make sense of the data they're collecting.  Once they've all gathered their data, we're going to spend some time working with triangulation tables. 
Outstanding. One of the reasons I developed this book was to provide heuristics that would help people conduct hands-on audience analysis in a structured way. For a full semester study, the entire book is useful. But for mini-studies like these, it makes a lot of sense to pull out basic heuristics such as the research design matrix, resource maps, handoff chains, and triangulation tables. In fact, these are the same heuristics I highlight in my chapter in Solving Problems in Technical Communication.

Second, Chris is using Topsight as a guide in developing his own dissertation research:
I find the diagrams and flowcharts you've included in Topsight really helpful for stepping back and getting some perspective on where I'm at in my research, what questions need answering, and where I need to go next. It's kind of given me a sense of topsight for my own research process.  
In a follow-up email, he added:
One more thing: I forgot to mention how useful I found the section on pitching a study to stakeholders. A couple of interviews have not gone as well as they could have simply because I wasn't able to assuage their skepticism toward me and my study. Some of the biologists I've interviewed seemed to think that I--some guy from the English department who doesn't know a falcon tube from a pipette--was either there to criticize the way they do things or call their authority into question. If I'd been able to give them a clear and concise elevator-pitch right at the get-go, I think they would've opened up about their work a little easier, and my data would've been a little richer.
Yes. As I told Chris, the pitch process I describe in Topsight was based on my own (sometimes painful) trial and error. In fact, I don't recall seeing other field research texts describing how to pitch studies to stakeholders—mostly they tend to assume that you'll work it out. But as I've discovered, and as many of my students have discovered, people are often reluctant to take part in studies unless you can give them a clear idea of how they'll benefit. Topsight helps you formulate that pitch ahead of time. It's actually one of my favorite things about the book.

Anyway, thanks to Chris for writing.

Are you using Topsight? If so, shoot me an email. I'd love to hear what your experiences are.

Monday, February 18, 2013