[RAS Korea] Sociology in Korea 50 years ago - The Korea Times
The Korea Times

Settings

ⓕ font-size

  • -2
  • -1
  • 0
  • +1
  • +2

[RAS Korea] Sociology in Korea 50 years ago

  • Facebook share button
  • Twitter share button
  • Kakao share button
  • Mail share button
  • Link share button
A view of Seoul, published in The Korea Times Jan. 1, 1970. / Korea Times Archive
A view of Seoul, published in The Korea Times Jan. 1, 1970. / Korea Times Archive

By Steven L. Shields

Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) Korea published a unique volume of its annual journal, Transactions, in 1971. The entire issue was devoted to sociology. Specifically, the study was done by six Korean scholars and one American social anthropologist working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The project director and the other Korean scholars were at the top of their fields in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The study was focused on the newly emerging urban life that was beginning to take shape in Korea at the time. Villages and single-family dwellings in Seoul, mainly, were being replaced rapidly by apartment buildings.

The lives of city dwellers were being transformed, and work life was changing. Even the floor plans of living spaces were being modified.

The "madang" (front courtyard), where so much food preparation, laundry and other daily tasks had been conducted, was disappearing quickly. Sociology, too, was a newly emerging field of academic study. Although perhaps not the first Korean sociology study published in English,
Transactions vol. 46, released in 1971, was possibly one of Seoul's first comprehensive sociological studies.

At the time of publication, sociology in Korea had passed through four distinct stages. Keijo Imperial University professor Lee Man-gap, one of the founding "parents" of sociology in Korea, listed the first stage as taking place up to the end of the Pacific War. He noted there was no sociology department at the university, but there were some cases in the field, and some research was being done. After the war, the university was renamed Seoul National University (SNU) and organized to have a sociology department. Several texts in Korean were published but were based on Western concepts.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, new theories and methodologies being developed in the United States were introduced in Korea, and research and fieldwork began in earnest. Finally, in the late 1960s, the first sociology journal was published in 1964. Scholars became critical of the effectiveness of U.S.-based theories when applied to the Korean context, and they began developing new approaches. Transactions 46 published some of the fruits of that new effort.

Children play in Hwagok-dong, published in The Korea Times May 17, 1970. / Korea Times Archive
Children play in Hwagok-dong, published in The Korea Times May 17, 1970. / Korea Times Archive

The project director for "Life in Urban Korea" was Ewha Womans University professor Lee Hyo-jae. She studied in the U.S. at the University of Alabama, Columbia University and the University of California, Berkeley. By 1971 her bibliography in sociological studies was already extensive.

Choi Syn-duk, a sociology professor at Ewha, reviewed family life in the volume. Kim Kyong-dong from SNU, then a Ph.D. candidate at Cornell University, dealt with philosophical and religious aspects of the study. Han Sang-bock, SNU, then a Ph.D. candidate in anthropology at the University of Wisconsin―Madison, covered economic and social relationships. Another SNU graduate and Ph.D. candidate in journalism and mass communication at Emory University, Oh Kap-hwan, considered social aspirations and mobility.

Finally, Lee Kyong-jae, a graduate of SNU's College of Law and Graduate School of Public Administration, researched three Seoul neighborhoods' physical and administrative characteristics.

A mass wedding ceremony, published in The Korea Times Nov. 11, 1971. / Korea Times Archive
A mass wedding ceremony, published in The Korea Times Nov. 11, 1971. / Korea Times Archive

The entirety of Transactions 46 was devoted to the topic. Chapters included the historical background of Seoul, the city administration and organization, a focused study of three neighborhoods in various parts of the city, considering daily life, family and kinship relationships, and religion and social values. Seoul was one of the fastest-growing cities globally and certainly the fastest-growing and biggest of all cities in Korea.

Between 1945 and the end of 1970, the population of Seoul had increased by 800 percent to about 5 million residents. The need for more urban planning and the development of services and infrastructure was at a critical point. The city administration was scrambling to keep up with the growth. The need for downtown development (in the oldest part of the city), more and bigger roads, public facilities and new residential areas required the city to work hard and swiftly.

To do a more effective job, the city's urban planners needed such sociological studies as in this volume to help them meet and be ahead of anticipated needs. Questions about how people earned their livings, ran their homes, what they did in their leisure time and related to neighbors and relatives are crucial to proper urban planning. Otherwise, any urban planning or development venture ends up haphazard and speculative. Indeed, some of the older neighborhoods of Seoul exhibited such characteristics.

This study published by RAS Korea was intended to help Seoul's urban planners. Indeed, the scholars involved in the study were experts that should have indeed been consulted.

Traffic in front of Seoul City Hall, published in The Korea Times June 5, 1977. / Korea Times Archive
Traffic in front of Seoul City Hall, published in The Korea Times June 5, 1977. / Korea Times Archive

The research presented in the study was conducted over the last quarter of 1967. As the city was industrializing rapidly, the scope of the population was shifting. The population included all kinds: the wealthy and the impoverished, scholars and illiterate people, entrepreneurs and beggars. A newly emerging middle class was growing fast and becoming the majority of Seoul's population. How do urban planners both anticipate and respond to the desires and aspirations of the burgeoning population? Such was the critical question answered by this study. The study includes charts, diagrams and a survey of both research methods and historical perspectives on religion in Korea.

As with all past issues of Transactions, volume 46 is freely available from RAS Korea, in both text and PDF formats, which can be downloaded from
raskb.com.


Steven L. Shields, a retired cleric, is president of
Royal Asiatic Society Korea and columnist for The Korea Times. Visit raskb.com or email royalasiatickorea@gmail.com for more information about the society.




Top 10 Stories

go top LETTER

The Korea Times

Sign up for eNewsletter