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South Korea during the Park Chung Hee Era: Explaining Korea’s Developmental Decades

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Abstract Despite the voluminous literature on South Korea’s rapid economic development and social transformation in the 1960s and 1970s, the literature in English on Park Chung Hee — the political figure who indelibly marked this era — is still lacking. Furthermore, the existing studies approach the subject of Korea’s fateful decades from general theoretical perspectives, such as the developmental state. This approach inevitably flattens out historical particularity in the process. A recent edited volume, The Park Chung Hee Era: The Transformation of South Korea, fills these gaps by bringing political history back into the study of Korean modernization. The goal of this review essay is a critical evaluation of this volume’s contribution to scholarship on South Korea. It is posited that The Park Chung Hee Era throws light on topics such as Park’s leadership that have been hitherto neglected in the analysis of arguably the most consequential decades in the history of South Korea. However, while the edited volume mounts an effective criticism of existing perspectives on Korea’s developmental decades under Park Chung Hee’s rule, it is less successful in offering a consistent framework to analyze different causal factors shaping the Korean trajectory of economic development.

Affiliations: 1: National University of Singapore


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