Coproduction of a National Water Resource and a Postwar Political Order: Korea’s Water Resource Development Projects after the Korean War

Friday, 20 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Seohyun PARK, Virginia Tech, USA
This paper investigates the water resource development programs in South Korea after the Korean War (1950-1953). In 1961, President Park Chunghee (1917-1979) launched a national project, dreaming of an urbanized, industrialized, and modernized nation to overcome postwar turmoil and legitimatize his military regime. One key to realizing this was an abundance of water. In 1966, the Korean government started to survey major river basins with the aid of foreign agencies, such as the United States Geological Survey.

The essential work of the surveys was to make river water calculable and set a specific water supply plan. Based on past precipitation and water levels data, the survey teams estimated the average water flow, thereby quantifying the rivers. They also constructed stream gauge stations, trained Korean personnel, and standardized measurement methods to establish and maintain a stable water management system. These infrastructures allowed the Korean government to transform the rivers into national resources and rationalize a rush of dam construction.

My research explores how the messy reality of river systems turned into manageable national water resources through the construction and operation of technologies designed to simplify, quantify, and standardize the rivers. I argue that this implementation of water management projects repeatedly envisioned and produced various forms of national identity, power configurations, political economy, territorial environment, and the citizens' bodies. I especially focus on how the projects invented devices to control natural water from a distance and how experiences of local communities around the rivers were excluded from environmental governance.

This research is theoretically informed by a toolkit for studying the mutual construction of technology and politics developed in the field of science and technology studies (STS). Following the idiom of co-production in the STS literature, I examine how water management technology and political orders were created, stabilized and transformed through constant interaction.