Origins of the developmental state in Korea: A social constructivist approach

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Political Science


Lily H. M. Ling


state hegemony, Confucianism, economic growth

Subject Categories

Geography | History | Political Science


Current literature on East Asia's "developmental state" tends to overlook (1) the historical origins of state hegemony, (2) state-society relations in a non-Western, non-liberal context, (3) local-global interaction, and (4) changes in state hegemony over time. In so doing, development theorists inadvertently legitimate military despotic rule, and its attendant economically-efficient bureaucracy. Such reification distorts the picture of economic development in Korea. By focusing on non-Western and non-liberal state and society relations, this study argues that the legitimacy of the state's intervention in the economy does not come solely from a contemporary regime of military dictatorship but from historically formulated Confucian state-society relations. In order to articulate such relations in Korea, this study applies Onuf's paradigm of three different forms of rules and rule to three incarnations of Korea's capital city.

The thesis of this study provides us with an alternative to two current paradigms for explaining the unprecedented economic growth in Korea as well as in other Asian countries, neoclassical (neoliberal) and late developmentalist: market or state? It overcomes the oversimplification of attributing such economic growth to military dictatorship or an authoritarian state. Furthermore, it puts Confucianism into adequate perspective by showing how Confucianism functioned as a main source of state hegemony and state legitimacy, regulating economic activities, and has been modified since the Yi dynasty for the eventual formation of the modern developmental state in Korea. As a result, this study liberates us from a reductionist perspective toward Confucianism, especially in explaining the authoritarian political culture of Korea, and also from a journalistic perspective of treating Confucianism as merely a source of national characteristics of diligence, aspiration for higher education, and obedience.

The second contribution of this study lies in its transcending a false dilemma: conversion to Western liberalism or incarceration by authoritarianism. By reconstructing the social rules that work differently from Western state-society relations, this study suggests the crafting of an indigenous model that is neither Western liberalism nor authoritarianism. The framework that this study utilizes would help us put non-dichotomous, non-confrontational complex interactions between state and society into adequate perspective, grounded in local reality, and would provide an adaptable and flexible framework which reflects the continuities and changes in the state-society relations.


Surface provides description only. Full text is available to ProQuest subscribers. Ask your Librarian for assistance.