North Korea defined by ‘hybridity,’ South Korean analyst says in new book

A South Korean academic’s new book argues that different systems co-exist in North Korea in which marketization has occurred from below, but the government has rejected reforms that would open the country more to the outside world. File Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI

June 26 (UPI) — A new book on North Korea from a South Korean academic proposes studying the country’s “hybridity” to better understand North Korean society.

Koh Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies and director of the Institute of North Korea at Dongguk University in Seoul, says in his new book that North Korea can best be understood when studying the effects of mixture upon North Korean identity and culture, Hankyoreh reported Friday.

Koh’s book, “Social Change and Hybridity in North Korea,” available only in Korean, says most theories of North Korean society assume that marketization is the foundation of new changes.

Marketization theory asserts that if privatized trade continues and new entrepreneurs emerge, these economic developments lead to political openness.

Koh argues in his book that marketization theory may not be sufficient to understand contemporary North Korea. Recent history indicates that even though a marketization from below is taking place, the direction of the North Korean leadership suggests Pyongyang has not changed since the Cold War.

The author instead proposes hybridity may best capture what is occurring at multiple levels of North Korean society, where different systems exist side by side. “Social Change and Hybridity is the first volume in a six-book series from Koh.

The books will examine the emergence of informal relationships in North Korea amid the more formal and officially recognized relationship between state and citizen, according to Hankyoreh.

Changes in North Korea are taking root among these networks of informal relationships. Post-socialist transactions, including bribes, are reshaping society and how North Koreans relate to one another. Those developments will be covered in future books of the series, according to the Hankyoreh.

Informal markets in North Korea have played an important role in replenishing the food supply, according to defectors.

Thae Yong-ho, the former North Korean diplomat now lawmaker in Seoul, told KBS Friday that North Korea’s current food shortage does not compare to the famine of the ’90s.

Markets have taught the North Korean people the ability to “self-sustain,” and it is unlikely mass starvation will occur as in the past, Thae said, according to the report.


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