Internal Multiple Modernities: The Korean Aperture

Saturday, 21 July 2018: 10:45
Oral Presentation
Kyung-Sup CHANG, Seoul National University, Republic of Korea
Modernity has usually been conceived as the civilizational state of affairs in a national society. When postcolonial nations, upon liberation, embarked upon modernization often as a state-driven project of material, cultural, and institutional transformation, many of their respectively incumbent states were not able to justly represent or fully incorporate people(s) and society (societies) under their supposed jurisdictions. Within loosely, hastily and/or coercively defined national boundaries, certain regions, ethnicities, classes, professions (military in particular) or civil society have frequently challenged the rule of the often self-established states by envisioning and pursuing alternative lines of modernization. At the micro-social or private level, individuals, families, and other intimate groups often implicitly defy the rule of any ineffective and/or authoritarian state in similar ways. Modernity – and the process of modernization – can be plural not only across different national societies, as persuasively indicated in Eisenstadt’s “multiple modernities” thesis, but also within each national society. Such internal multiplicity of modernities/modernizations is critically predicated upon the varying complexities of time-space (era-place) compression across different units of (inherently compressed) modernity. Internal multiple modernities can be seen as complexly localized instances of Appadurai’s global “scapes” in postcolonial modernization. In a major historical irony, the internal plurality of modernizations/modernities was manifested with particular intensity under the political and ideological influence of the Cold War, which helped enthrone certain political factions into state power against broad local social ideals and interests. Beneath the coerced uniformity of liberal capitalism under the authoritarian Cold War states, paradoxically diverse aspirations for liberation and happiness nurtured multiple competing axes of modernities/modernizations. On the other hand, under multi-faceted globalization defying national particularities and regional barriers, the 21st century is quickly becoming an era of universalized internal multiple modernities. In this paper, the Korean experience is examined as a most pertinent case in point.