Academic journal article Development and Society

Social Conditions of Village Democracy in South Korea

Academic journal article Development and Society

Social Conditions of Village Democracy in South Korea

Article excerpt

Introduction

Civic participation and its institutional opportunity structure have long been deemed important in the discourse on civil society in Korea. Those concerns are based on a high level of perceived importance and vulnerability of civil society in a political process of Korean democracy. Despite considerable efforts to promote civic awareness and strengthen civil society, the autonomy of local residents is still almost invariably linked to the institution of civil society. In Korea, this is closely related to the fact that a growth engine of civil society after democratization has not been properly rooted in the local community in an era of decentralization. In particular, this is because the concept of civil society and autonomy in Korea is still subordinated to a framework of relations with the state. However, autonomy must not only be conceptualized as freedom from the state or higher powers, but also include the capacity for developing or expressing local identity (Pratchett 2004). Also, civil society has more visibility and activity at local-level configurations, as evidenced by institutional reforms of Participatory Budgeting (Baiocchi, Heller, and Silva 2008). Therefore, the development of local autonomy and democracy based on civic participation is required for the growth of local civil society.

Recently, there have been several attempts to institutionalize autonomy and civic participation at local level. Above all in the mid-1990s, community building (Maeulmandeulgi) led to the so-called rediscovery of the village with the resurgence of local government institution. Community building can be defined in a broad sense as the joint work of residents who are interested in the very living environment of their villages and who are transforming their local communities. Of course, community building can have varying forms by the interests of participants, the nature of business, and the way of resource mobilization. Nevertheless, it should be noted that a key to linking the subject, content, method and purpose in the community building is heavily dependent on the public changes of the village or local communities. In this context, community building is considered to provide resilience to local autonomy and open a new chapter for local civic participa-tions.

As we all know, Korean community building is an adapted version of Japanese "Machizukuri" (^įO'<·9). Since the late 1990s, it started to take root in the administrative system and civil society in Korea. In the process, several cases of Japanese community building provided useful guidance on the development of Korean local autonomy in the 2000s. It has provided a good example for the implementation of a self-governing system based on local autonomy and resident participation. First of all, in the midst of expanding the institutional opportunity structure of local autonomy, it became evident that it is necessary for local residents and local governments to positively accept the governance paradigm of public-private cooperation through community building as a essential condition for citizen autonomy. It signified a departure from the centralized urban planning to decentralized local autonomy.

In addition, the background of Korean civil movements has had important influences on the spread of community building. The civil movements in the 2000s were criticized for it being the civic movements with no citizen involvement. As a result, the reflection of civil movements began to regard the grassroots level of local living unit and politics of everyday life as a new exit strategy for change. In this context, the grassroots civil movements have become one of the pillars of the community building by combining the local social movements and life politics, to meet local needs and restore the communality of a village.

In the 2000s, community building spread rapidly as the central government as well as local governments initiated a variety of community building projects. …

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