Ex-periphery: South Korea in the Post-miracle Era

In this talk I propose to draw attention to the often neglected category of ex-peripheries—former developing economies which are still suspended in transition from developing to developed status. By examining the post-miracle era of South Korea, I aim to understand the primary mechanisms behind the production and reproduction of core-periphery boundaries in its meteoric rise in the 1980s from a mostly agricultural and technologically backward nation to 11th-largest economy in the world. Yet despite the outstanding economic success associated with its celebrated conglomerates’ engagement in catching-up practices—imitating and improving overseas technology, products, knowledge, and policies—Korean development continues to be seen as entangled in the evolutionary process of “still works-in-progress.” The extensive media coverage of accusations made against Korea for its involvement in technological imitation—including the Apple Inc. vs. Samsung Electronics intellectual property lawsuit—has further questioned its full membership in the prestigious club of developed economies. The paradox of becoming part of the economic center while remaining on the geopolitical periphery requires rethinking such in-between position to discover alternative narratives derived from beyond the core-periphery binary.