Doing good or looking good? : communicating development, branding nation in South Korea




Lee, Kyung Sun, Ph. D.

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This dissertation examines foreign aid-related activities of South Korea to demonstrate how the discourse and practice surrounding development is understood, interpreted, and enacted by an emerging donor. The past two decades have given rise to a diversity of development actors committed to doing good for their inter/transnational counterparts, evidenced in the multi-directional flow of development programs and funds to support such causes. Emerging from the multi-polar structure of the development landscape are a diverse range of articulations, motivations, and understandings guiding development aid. This has raised fundamental questions about how to approach and understand the geopolitical field of development at present moment in time, and the possibility of emerging actors to dismantle the dominant discourse of development. The scholarly field of development communication, however, has been slow to take such shifts into consideration. Following a critical approach to development communication, this study understands development as a discursive field where negotiation and struggle among different actors take place at multiple levels. Based on the theoretical understanding, this study examines South Korea’s development thinking and practice, specifically, in relation to its international development volunteer program. Drawing on a discourse analysis of multiple sources data, including news coverage that examines how development is discussed over time by Korean popular press, visual images of Korea’s volunteer program, and interviews with former volunteers, this study makes three points. First, geopolitical and domestic conditions over time have closely tied the understanding of development with nation building, where the two projects mutually constitute one another. Second, in examining how such enduring association of development with the national project is manifested in its representational practices of volunteer encounters, I show that the host becomes simplified, depoliticized, and romanticized, against which Korea is foregrounded as culturally rich, competent, and compassionate. Finally, drawing on an interrogation of multiple structural conditions that are implicated in development volunteering, I show the ways in which Korean volunteers navigate and complicate the dominant imaginaries of development, bringing new perspectives to nation, race, and gender in volunteer-host relationship.


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