Displacement in the Name of Development: Urbanization, Speculation, and Stratified Spatial Order in South Korea

Sunday, 10 July 2016: 12:30
Location: Hörsaal III (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Myungji YANG, University of Hawaii, manoa, USA, university of hawaii, manoa, USA, University of Southern California, USA
Conventional development literature argues that South Korea is one of the most successful cases of rapid economic growth and urbanization. As a result of the post-war national developmental project, Korea’s urbanization rate has reached 90%. Old, disorganized urban landscapes have been transformed into highly modern, well-ordered environments in just a few decades. Informal settlements in the hearts of cities have been largely eliminated. Yet this seemingly progressive urban redevelopment process was riddled with violent and brutal scenes as the homes of the urban poor were demolished and ordinary homeowners were forcibly evicted in the name of modernization. Examining how the Korean authoritarian state promoted urban redevelopment projects, this paper seeks to address the following questions: What were the driving political and commercial forces behind the ruthless process of urban development and restructuring, and how did ordinary citizens respond to and negotiate with land policies? I argue that a pro-growth coalition between the authoritarian state and private real estate developers drove a process of speculative urbanization, which increasingly stratified urban space. This process involved dispossession and displacement on a large scale, with the less affluent being pushed to the outskirts of cities without proper compensation. The process of urban redevelopment and restructuring became a site of contestation, as people with differential access to resources attempted to extend, or defend, their own interests. Despite strong resistance by the urban poor against the demolition of their communities, the rights of ordinary residents and homeowners were often violated by the authoritarian state and real estate developers. Using archival data and interviews conducted in the summers of 2014 and 2015, this paper highlights how the national project of economic modernization became dominated by speculation and exclusion. In doing so, this paper aims to contribute to the critical understanding of development and urbanization in Korea.