Monday, April 21, 2014

Can anthropologists write in English? The below suggests that they can't.

A playfully mischievous ode to Anthropology.
Sunday, April 20, 2014
An Opinion & Related Literature Piece Covering a Political Anthropological Reading of Prof. Chester B. Cabalza’s IS [SOUTH] KOREA OPEN FOR SOFT POWER DIPLOMACY? (2011)

The article is a policy paper providing an address on how South Korea utilizes soft power as a diplomatic strategy to positively shape proximate relations with Northeast Asian countries and with other regions, especially in the case of culture with specific mention of the hallyu/hanryu or Korean Wave and its prospect of improving relations in defense, politics, and economics.

Cabalza [2011] begins his discourse with a “then and now” comprehensive political cultural background of Korea. As a result of Japanese occupation and the Korean War, the 1950s saw a theme of poverty, characterized by a bleak economy with shattered infrastructures and drained resources. South Korea eventually achieved rapid economic growth, enough to emerge along the lines of prospectively being recognized as a tiger economy. What remains however, is the reality of a divided Korea as victim of the Cold War. It has been mentioned that while indoctrination strategies during the Korean War had conditioned both sides to view each other as the foremost enemy, hopes of unification is maintained grounded with the strong sense of brotherhood left untouched between the south and north. This places a dilemma on South Korea’s defense diplomacy where the concern is to achieve the ability to contain the dangers (which are and may be) posed by North Korea, without the prospect of peaceful unification becoming compromised.

As read, Korean political culture also places emphasis on the value of education, with thekyo yuk yeol phenomenon (also known as ‘education fever’) having paved the way for achieving a knowledge-based economy; the transition from being agricultural to industrial, with its large pool of educated citizens and human capital. This was said to have developed the South Korean educational system to produce a significantly high educational literacy rate reaching almost one hundred percent. However, there have been accounts from some Korean nationals lamenting the rigorous selectiveness the local (educational) system has ---- and this places the question of the lack of compassion and to an extent challenge the confidence of credibility placed in KYY. Speculatively speaking, if the intention was always to improve citizen quality, it should have been all throughout, meaning to assist especially those whose academic performances are weak. As a result, if these people have failed in the selection process, their integration in this desired census of South Korean society would be possible through getting a college education elsewhere which on some occasions also by consequence includes some change in values attained. Hence observed the pouring of South Korean scholars into the Philippines, as it has been mentioned that tuition fees and cost of living is very affordable as well as the apparent sense of touristic indifference [Dumont: 1984] blatant in varied versions of “Korean Towns”, the import of delicacies, as well as the indigenization of gastronomic Korean culture as tell-tale indicators.

The more complex and recent of developments in South Korean political culture is the rebranding of Korea as one of the defining cornerstones of the Lee administration [Cheng: 2010; Cabalza 2011: 03]. As is known, the essence of rebranding requires the building of a national consensus [Olins 2005: 172] on X whatever that may be. This priority involves, to quote Olins [2005] in verbatim: …the creation and modulation of reputations in order to create domestic loyalties and coherence and promote their own power and influence in neighboring countries. Cabalza [2011] mentions the establishment of the Presidential Committee on Nation Branding in 22 January 2009 by council chairman Euh Yoon-dae and dignitaries including the Korean Culture Minister and the Seoul Tourism Organization president. It is further mentioned that the Presidential Council is formed by government officials and civilian experts from varied fields to coordinate government efforts to raise overall standards in Korean society for the improvement of national image in the international community.

Pursuing the programme of rebranding also means that South Korea is recognizant that she is in direct and overt competition with other nations. According to Olins [2005], each nation has to be clear and enthusiastic with its projection of national brand through three areas: brand export; foreign direct investment; and tourism. Cabalza [2011] mentioned the subject of Korea’s branded export economy of internationally known labels such as Samsung, Hyundai Kia, and LG (which scholars mention are Chaebols) and this is a primary exemplification; it may be posited that this was also the first defining element of their soft power strategy. There is however that favorite, perennial question of stability: Would global appeal for Korean brands be affected by political developments? (What would count as a political development?) And if so, Would there be any chance and manner for resilience? Olins’ areas, though mentioned in a 2005 article (perhaps earlier), are lacking a fourth which is greatly applicable today: Migration. As tourism is a means of encouraging people to buy certain brands, a considerably more relatable reason for patronage would be a type of consumerism driven by (either or both) practicality and sentimentality expected on the part of migrants. Popular patronage would of course contribute to credibility and hence sales, and as mentioned in Cabalza [2011: 01] this gave rise to the first conceptualization of the Korean Wave called Hallyu --- coined in China in the year 1999 “…by Beijing journalists who were startled by the growing popularity of South Koreans and South Korean goods in China”. It may be contended that the second wave is in a form that more people could relate to as well as identify its “cultural” roots --- the Hanryu definition provided by a Professor Kang Chul-Keun [2006 cited in Cabalza 2011: 01] is based on a wave which “…mainly originated from popular music, passing through phenomenal soap operas and films embracing Korean culture as a whole.” There is however emphasis placed on the dominance of the role TV soap operas have played in setting the (foundation) of this form of Korean Wave which was in development since 2000.

The discourse then proceeds with a listing of issues in South Korea’s new soft power. The first asks the subject of North Korea remaining a looming presence in South Korean politics while China and Japan are closely being monitored to tame economic and military rivals co-existing in a clear and present danger zone, especially in Korea-China-Japan tripartite relationship. As regards the question of compensation for the hard power deficit, this is addressed with optimism citing theoretical references from Nye [2004] and Lee [2008]. There is confidence in Nye’s postulate of soft power which is characterized by the ability to attract, to get others to want what one wants. ‘Attractive power’ is mentioned to be separate from ‘influence’ as the latter may bankon hard power threats or payment. It is further expanded how soft power of a country depends on its culture, political values at home and abroad, as well as its legitimate foreign policies which have moral authority. Usage of a soft power strategy as diplomatic tool makes sense in the South Korean context considering perception of the country as a middle power which as of now is unable to substantially compete along hard power terms with its neighbors, China and Japan. Cabalza [2011] writes that according to Lee [2008], South Korea’s role is in being a ‘hub nation’ or ‘regional balancer’ with the function of being an intermediary, made possible as both the Japanese and Chinese tend to view Korean soft power in a more positive light than they do each other.

For a matter of personal opinion, there are a few insights as well as considerations as regards the substance proper of South Korea’s soft power. The South Korean case is a fairly concrete example reinforcing the impression of the Eurocentric character that subjects falling under the ‘political’ has, and should be outdated by now because of the openness of borders and hence minds. There have long been calls for the balancing of perspectives ---- the need for undergraduate schools of politics and governance around the globe to include oriental political thought in the curriculum. Pursuing a soft power strategy is the more effective position that South Korea can place itself in for the time being. But as students of politics are assessing country cases in accordance to a tradition and habit of the hard power vista, it makes one ask if there is something truly wrong with predominantly playing the role of regional balancer for a more prolonged period of time than expected.

It is mentioned in Cheng [2010] that Nye was consulted and that the project team behind the strategy had received training via special lectures from him upon invitation from the Korea Foundation and the East Asian Institute in February of 2008. It would be of interest to interrogate Nye’s framing of ‘soft power’ compared to that in general IR used by diplomats. A regular feature of description is how soft power is rooted largely in a country’s values expressed through its culture in handling its relations with other states [Ishmael: 2013]. It is now seen how equally political is the question of how culture should be defined, as well as what aspects should be considered under its rubric in this given context. And this is more so the case witha considerable framing of popular culture (and eventually a distinction from mass culture),since culture and pop culture have developed a degree of synonymity or rather interchangeability, at least if speaking with reference to soft power-related news and usability. And further, how does soft power diplomacy also differ from cultural diplomacy and public diplomacy? What is sure is that popular culture can no longer be dismissed as something non-political given how scholars such as Press-Barnathan [2011] have observed that key states have begun referring to it as a soft power asset, regardless of the question of whether or not popular culture can have significant impact on other foreign policies. The politicization of popular culture is viewed to be practically by default. According to Press-Barnathan [2011], this nature of discourse would be classifiable under “High Politics” which is a convenient catch-all for topics falling beyond if not beside the scopes of the political economic and economic competition.

To paraphrase Cabalza [2011], popular culture permits an extent of cultural freedom granting individuals the intellectual leisure to speak of conflicts between generations, nationalism, globalism, as well as gender issues. Chul-keun [2006] contended that it is through the hallyu that for the first time, Asians have a genuine cultural exchange vehicle which extends to people regardless of their ethnicity and nationality ---- the sentiments shared were the same while watching Koreans soap operas and films [Cabalza 2011: 03]. Globalization is also mentioned to have played a bigger role in the promotion of the Korean wave at a tremendously fast pace; either by going viral (YouTube) or as basic as television, in various social networks and new media. The embracing of hanryu also came to mean alternatives to the Western popular culture that Asians have long been familiar and immersed in [ibid].

The problem with considering (as well as accepting) popular culture and culture as one and the same in a framing of soft power is how attraction in this case may not necessarily be equated or lead to power. The usual conceptual route would be for popular culture to have the purpose of changing perceptions of a country in the senses of others who are audience or consumers. In accordance to the standard framing of soft power via popular culture, in theory subscription would in turn place governments of audiences in the position to improve their relations with other states. Of course this would also bring people to ask who is meant by ‘audience’ as well as ‘consumers’ --- how do citizens receive, relate, and most crucially react to a TV series, music, and similar? The subject of being able to identify with a piece of popular culture is tricky in the sense that popular culture is based on content which has the potential to exclude just as well as it includes. For it to be appreciated by people outside a group of its original market, there is the apparent need for baseline interests and subjects to form part its conceptual premise. With popular culture always having been consumed and now seen as a soft power asset, it becomes almost inevitable to see it as a tool to enhance economic hard power. It is mentioned in Lo [2011] as well as in Press-Barnathan [2011] that the character of consumption inherent in popular culture might encourage some pop culture producers to create tangibles and intangibles which may not necessarily comply with state guidance; but rather manipulate historical animosity, distort national, cultural elements or similar, just to reach as broad an audience as possible and stimulate sales. This gives rise to the possibility of the dictating of commodity production which does not explicitly encode a specific national culture [Wabuchi cited in Otmazgin & Ben-Ari 2011: 22]. And this bit has some potential to be stretched out of hand, especially if soap operas “pull a Kris Aquino” ---- there is the crucial importance to note the fine line between product placements and the artfully positioned tangible. According to Cabalza [2011: 03], Korean scholar Chaesung Chun [2008] believes that South Korea’s national image and values for Global Korea should be prosperous, democratic, modest, non-threatening, and culturally syncretic countries model South Korea for its simultaneous achievements of development and democratization.

Returning to the subject of reaction, if the result is active, that is to say, eliciting some form of response, it would be valid to consider it as attraction; the question is if it is positive or negative. Press-Barnathan [2011: 38] states that whether such an attraction translates into an accommodative approach in consideration of other state’s policies and political behavior, that is something which isn’t necessarily guaranteed. While pop culture might encourage people to develop a positive interest in imported cultures and ideas, this does not necessarily provide an affirmation of the creation of political influence as expected.

The third matter asks whether or not the success of the Korean cultural wave (hanllyu) transmitted through TV dramas and other forms of popular culture would encourage the government to use soft power as a diplomatic tool. For a matter of humble opinion, it would probably be more valid to consider hanllyu under the context of public diplomacy. Scholars such as Bouissou [2011] express pessimism, scribing that the effects of soft power based on popular culture are almost, by definition, slow and work best when not pursued by governments. According to Otmazgin & Ben-Ari [2011], this is most likely due to incompatibilities between these two nouns (popular culture and government). The nature (democratized) and marketing of popular culture would be best in a flexible and dynamic environment, while the government being rigid with its old style in terms of development policies encourages concentration of ownership and scale economies.

Further on the plus side of assessing hanryu, Cabalza [2011] mentioned that there has been much talk about this creating a higher Asian cultural community. Though Korean soap operas, films, and Korean pop intermarried with music and fashion, Asians who have experienced similar modernization processes have increased a sense of solidarity among fellow Asians. There is also a change in terms of their gaze towards the West. He contends that in the long run, the higher objective of building an Asian cultural bloc should be reached.

The alternative path of attempting to directly influence leader’s perceptions via popular culture mechanisms has on instances been busted. One applicable example (in this topic reach and case) is Kim Jong-Il’s great interest in American Hollywood movies, which did not clearly translate into policies of the pro-American sort [Press-Barnathan: 2011].

As for the subject of policy options, the first regarding the decision of whether to continuously integrate soft power, shift to hard power, or explore the mixing of both is a good point to entertain. The safest approach would no doubt be the third, also known as ‘smart power’. The first of the three possibilities is good as a strategy for a specific objective; as to employ a series, for example, as an all-purpose is much too idealistic and still without a sufficient number of studies to support its effectiveness.

Policy options two and three discuss the implications soft power has on Korean identity and role in the political field. The common denominator in the Asian diplomatic usage of the Korean television series has to do with tropes placing Confucianism and family relations in the center of story premises. This is what accounts for the subject of cultural proximity, while simultaneously acting as an inhibitor on certain occasions. In a New York Times interview in 2005 of former minister of culture and tourism, Yi O-ryong, he perceives the Hanryu as both signal and symbol of a glocalization process which can be employed as a means to enhance and debut the new cultural identity of South Korea, as evidence of a transition from being a former colony as well as a nation which is an importer of culture to a main cultural exporter in Asia [Lee: 2008]. To relate this along the context of the second policy option, the continuation to Yi O-ryong’s comment is quite interesting. In essence, he states that the “parochial” character the Hanryu has must be done away with in order to go into global mainstream. Instead of prolonging the Korean wave, he suggests the creation of a new one based on universal and natural values “…a sort of digital Oriental wave”. Yi O-ryong’s remark is one example of the Hanryu discourses which involve the strategic merger between information technology as well as cultural content. Emphasis on this duo had the objective of enhancing the collective image of South Korea as a cultural powerhouse while simultaneously finding means for turning South Korean products into financial gains under the rubric of cultural entrepreneurship. Prime Minister Lee Hae-chan stressed the importance of the expansion and management of Korean pop culture abroad, having the prospects in mind that these may grant permanence to the image of the nation as an impressive “IT Power”. This kind of agenda is believed to usher in increased investment opportunities as well as exports [Lee: 2008].

If to consider Lee’s [2008] account of the culturalist approach, the third policy option may to an extent be negated. Lee remarks on how the mainstream perspectives on Hanryu have disregarded if not deliberately neglected the fact concerning the nature of South Korean popular cultural products being hybrid as well as relatively new in terms of cultural construction and have little in relation to traditional Korean culture or collective popular sentiments [Lee 2008: 184]. To continue, in verbatim: For instance, they are mostly a mixture of western cultural genres and formats, and they also convey cosmopolitan imaginaries and sophisticated urban styles [ibid]. In short, there is nothing uniquely Korean about the pop culture comprising the Hanryu [Shin: 2005 cited in Lee 2008: 184]. On the other hand, Lee’s documentation of the culturalist approach grants further description to the second policy option where this position considers the possibilities of cross-cultural or transborder dialogues which can be mediated via Hanryu texts. The culturalist position also grants voice to other bracketed and or marginalized agents and players in the dominant versions of the flow and reception of South Korean cultural forms [Lee 2008: 185].

Having been mentioned in Cabalza [2011: 04] that South Korea’s soft power diplomacy should be applied also in the process of reconciliation with the North, it leaves scholars of politics wondering which elements the South will use which might be accepted by the North. Once again, there is the task of distinguishing high culture from (traditional) culture from mass culture and pop culture. Aside from this is the necessity to determine whether or not the element which will be employed has come to develop any cultural-emotional imprints on it which might result in adding fuel to the fire (most often the case if it has visual/literary rhetoric woven in this, and has been criticized through ideological anchoring). On the one end, there can be the possibility that a television series could be developed solely for this purpose. If such a thing would be crafted, and is proven effective, this would surely go down as one of the most fondest moments in the history of conflict resolution.

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