Academic journal article Development and Society

Collective Memory and Formation of the "Unconscious" Political Generation: Focusing on the Former Period Baby Boomers in Korea *

Academic journal article Development and Society

Collective Memory and Formation of the "Unconscious" Political Generation: Focusing on the Former Period Baby Boomers in Korea *

Article excerpt

This study aims to show how the collective memories of industrialization and dictatorship Korean baby boomers experienced in the formative period of political socialization have unconscious effect on Korea's political process. Research findings include: First, baby boomers have preferences for strong leaders-moderate civil society relationship. This is in line with the positive collective memory of President Park Chung Hee, who led industrialization and remarkable economic growth based on his authoritarian rule. Second, political choice of baby boomers in their lifetime voting since 1987 manifested a regional cleavage between Honam and non-Honam. This shows the unconscious effect of their sense of belonging to a political party and regional identity, formed according to the division into Honam and non-Honam regions. Third, baby boomers from non-Honam attacked progressive or critical political parties and social forces in a manner similar to the way President Park Chung Hee ruled using anticommunism to justify violence and oppression against political opposition forces. The above discussions reveal the need to consider not just political generation as a social movement force, but also the "unconscious" political generation that influences political process by their political values and faith.

Keywords: baby boomers, political generation, generation politics, political orientation

Introduction

Korean baby boomers revealed their political presence through voting in the 18th presidential election of 2012. With a high voting rate of 80 percent or over, they played a critical role in the winning of the conservative party candidate. Various political comments ensued, such as the "betrayal of people in their 50s," (The Kyunghyang Shinmun, Dec. 21, 20121) or "the power of the 50s" (TV Chosun, Dec. 22, 20122). The most predominant way to explain "50s' becoming conservative" was to see it as the "manifestation of social and economic insecurity." As a "sandwich generation" required to support both children and parents and unprepared for their own old age, their wish for security manifested as politically conservative orientation (Munhwa Ilbo, Nov. 8, 20133). A similar and yet different explanation is to heed the effect of the biological age of the 50s, emphasizing that generally, the older the voters, the more conservative they become (News1, Dec. 23, 20124). Though socioeconomic situation or biological features can explain political orientation of an age cohort to some extent, these explanations overlook the effect of unique political faith or values shared by an age group.

In studies of generation politics, the political generation theory assumes that political attitude and behavior of a particular population cohort are formed through historical and social experiences in the formative period of political socialization, corresponding to late youth or early adulthood. The attitudes as formed have constant and unchanging impact on their later lives. Based on this assumption, this study aims to show how baby boomers' experiences of historical and social events in their formative periods of political socialization have formed political faith and values unique to the generation and then influence their subsequent political attitude and behavior. The 1970s, their formative periods and the dynamic period of Korea's modern and contemporary history, are represented economically by the success of heavy and chemical industries, special demands from the Middle East, and dispatch of workforce overseas. In addition, aggravated military dictatorship, democratic movement against dictatorship, and the establishment of national mobilization system through the New Village Movement also represent this decade politically. Kim (2013) analyzed the conservative orientation of the 50s in the 18th presidential election as a generation effect, not general age effect, contending that baby boomers' positive memory of former president Park Chung Hee with experiences of state-led economic growth resulted in support for conservative party candidates. …

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