The Meaning of Park Geun-hye: South Korean Democracy at Crossroads

Se-Woong Koo, editor-in-chief of Korea Exposé
Tuesday, February 7, 2017 -
7:30pm to 9:00pm
Second floor Residents’ Lounge, Somerset Palace
10,000 won for non-members and 5,000 won for students (with student ID); free for members



The ascension of Park Geun-hye as president of South Korea began on a troubled note. Her election was disputed due to allegations of interference by state security apparatus. Her administration then spent a year confronting left-nationalist politicians and progressive social movements. In hindsight it should have been no surprise that Park had been secretly undermining the rule of law by entrusting state affairs to a trusted confidante, with whose help she had sought to aggrandize herself and her own family's legacy at the expense of the South Korean electorate.

The hitherto revealed Park administration's policies resonate with contemporary discussions of “post-democratization,” a process whereby social rights are increasingly subordinated to market logics and state power insulated from popular challenges. Under the conservative governments of Lee Myung-bak and Park Geun-hye, this process has been animated by a mode of confrontation known in South Korea as “politics by public security.” This politics targets social conflict and political dissent as threats to national security and has involved both illegal interventions by state institutions – such as the 2012 electoral interference by state agencies including the National Intelligence Service – and a cultural politics that affirms but revises the narrative of Korean democratization by obfuscating the nature of the democracy movement and by attempting to restore the honor of conservative forces associated with former dictatorships. The botched attempt at introducing state-produced history textbooks is but one example.

Even after Park's impeachment was confirmed in the National Assembly, Park's supporters have promoted the argument that the popular expressions of discontent with her rule, in the form of candlelight vigils, are orchestrated by pro-North Korean sympathizers and ultimately serve the regime in Pyongyang.

In order to better understand the significance of the Park Geun-hye years, this presentation will explore the origin of her rise within a tacit alliance between both former public security prosecutors-cum-conservative politicians and a movement of conservative intellectuals known as the New Right.


Se-Woong Koo, the founder and managing editor of the online magazine Korea Exposé, earned his PhD in religious studies with a focus on Korea from Stanford University.  He was a Korea Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the Centre de recherches sur la Corée at the École des hautes études en sciences sociales in Paris and taught Asian studies at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong, Bangladesh, and at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. He is a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the BBC World Service.


 To see more of Se-Woong Koo’s writings:


Korea Exposé,,


“Death of the Humanities,” Inside Higher Ed,,


“An Assault Upon Our Children; South Korea’s Education System Hurts Students,” The New York Times,

Contact Us

Royal Asiatic Society Korea Branch
Room 611, Korean Christian Building, Daehak-ro 19 (Yeonji-dong), Jongno-gu, Seoul 03129
[03129] 서울시 종로구 대학로 19 (연지동) 한국기독교회관 611호

Office is open Monday through Friday from 10 to 5 but we are short staffed and there are meetings elsewhere often: please call or email before your visit.
Phone (02) 763-9483 FAX (02) 766-3796
Email -

Find Us On...


Subscribe to Syndicate