The End of Tomorrow? Familial Liberalism and Social Reproduction Crisis (in Korean, Jipmundang, 2018)
Author: Kyung-sup Chang(Professor, SNU)
This book provides a sophisticated analysis of the familism in Korea.
The author conceptualizes and theorizes a basic economic and social order of Korea in terms of familial liberalism, and seeks to discover how this order fits with the principles and strategies of state-led industrial capitalism and the lifeworld of the Korean people.
Based on this analysis, the author elaborates on the radical crisis of social reproduction occurring in the general population, in families, and across classes, such as the ultra-low birthrate, postponement and aversion to marriage, divorces, and suicides, in the post-development capitalist environment.
The author provides an analysis which states that the crisis stems from self-imposed structural adjustments, arguing for population recovery, through action such as addressing the issue of the low birth rate, and calling for a holistic transformation in the political economy and a social policy system of familial liberalism.
Familial Liberalism in Korea
In the material and social reality of the Korean people, the family is the most basic political economic unit which extends beyond the simple boundary of leading the private lives, but constitutes a Korean person’s responsibilities, rights, and freedom that are fundamental and sometimes even exclusive in (developmental) capitalism.
In Korea, the state has continuously "requested or taken for granted the diverse roles of the family as a prerequisite for a number of policies." The family-dependent economic and social system, combined with Korean people’s strong familism, has continued to exist for a long period of time. As such, the author’s view is that the "familial liberalism," based on the omni-directional importance of the family, forms the basic economic and social order of Korea. This familial liberalism contrasts with Western liberalism in a way that, although non-Western societies such as Korea have adopted Western liberalism as their core social value, they have set the basic unit of freedom and responsibility as a family, not as an individual.
The unique familism in Korea carries the "situational component" created from Korean society’s adaption to the historical reality of a growth-centered development capitalism, rather than being a cultural phenomenon resulting from Confucian tradition.
The family reproduction crisis is the result of the self-imposed structural adjustments
The family relationships and domestic lives of Korean people react to macroscopic turmoil or crises that impact the national economy in a highly direct and intimate manner. Korean people have remained highly active in the adjustment and readjustment of their family composition and relationships for strategic survival. The modern history of Korea has been witness to a series of upheavals in the macroscopic environment of survival, thereby giving rise to rapid changes in family composition and familial relationships.
As the nation underwent a radical neo-liberalistic reconstruction without overcoming the limitations or evils of conservative developmentalism subsequent to the financial crisis late in the last century, the Korean people as mass producers faced collective exclusion from and marginalization within the mainstream economic system.
Nevertheless, the familial or familialized duties and functions of education, housing, finance, employment, protection, and family support have not seen any changes at all. As a result, the Korean people have again intensified their familial liberal responses in times of crisis, but, in contrast to this, many have begun to enforce some form of "structural adjustment" to their families (relationships) or have even displayed a trend towards denying or giving up on family formation altogether. Therefore, the wavering physical conditions of family-oriented social reproduction paved the way for an era of the “risk family.” After all, the current crisis of family reproduction does not reflect Western-style individualization but rather derives from the deep-rooted familial liberalism.
The majority of the younger generation have grown highly cautious in respects to marriage and childbirth, that is, they have become “risk adverse” when it comes to forming a nuclear family. The young adult population is “reluctant to enter into marriage or give birth,” “because the marriage and childbirth (that they desire) are impossible to achieve under the multi-layered pressure coming from issues of employment, housing, and education. “The younger generation, like their parents, regards planned marriage and childbirth, in a practical and material manner, as necessary and desirable. With the economic development and social welfare gap being among the worst in the world, this younger generation regards the “planned family” as essential, allowing the trends of delayed marriage, non-marriage, and ultra-low birth rate to continue”.
Even when married, the number of "extended nuclear families" soared as young married couples increasingly rely upon their middle- and old-aged parents for housing, childcare, and living, and the number of families with reversed support relation between generations has also increased. “It is inevitable that the order or familial liberalism constitutes impotent dependence on middle-aged parents for the youth who have yet to achieve economic independence due to the employment crisis, causing great anxiety and pain under circumstances where such support cannot be provided due to severe income and asset inequality.”
At the same time, the middle-aged and older populations have lost the time and rewards they expected to enjoy after passing down their familial role to the next generation, and the number of elderly people living alone is also on the rise. Since the Asian financial crisis, the family reproduction crisis had been structured, as evidenced by the increasing rates of non-marriage and delayed marriage, lowered birthrates, and the rise in the elderly suicide rate.
In the end, the signs of population collapse in Korea come from widespread efforts by the Koreans to readjust the scope, intensity, and duration of familial relations in a practical manner. This serves as paradoxical evidence for the chronic nature of familial liberalism that ordinary citizens share with the nation, society, and the capitalist economy. The family reproduction crisis in Korea is the result of a type of self-imposed structural adjustment of familial liberalist individuals and families. The widespread marital postponement and aversion, rampant divorce and separation, and even suicide spreading like a plague all share the same root causes as the ultra-low birthrate.
The need for a holistic transformation in the familial-liberal political economy and social policy system
through social agreement on the role of the state
From this perspective, the Korean government's attempts to restore the birthrate, which has fallen to the lowest in the world, through basic child care support and some child benefit payments are unlikely to bring about any significant effects. No policy that is focused on raising the birthrate entirely by relying on changing the behavior of individuals will be able to address the root causes of the issue. Considered historically, Korea has given the burden of welfare to families and achieved economic development through emphasizing "Growth First, Distribution Later" and "Family Protection First, Social Welfare Later” under the regime of Park Chung-hee (1970s). In other words, every time a new president took over the office, the state management philosophy and policy changed, and families bore the brunt of the aftereffects of these changes. With no experience in distributing wealth, fundamental debates on the scope of the state’s responsibilities and role in dispensing welfare, as well as the social consensus regarding such issues, are required.
The Korean (or East Asian) context in respects to the ultra-low birthrates sharply contrasts with the welfare-state context of Western Europe, where rising birthrates have been evident throughout the region. It is necessary to pursue research that examines the welfare policies other countries have introduced in their own “era of 30,000 dollars per capita income,” placing a particular focus on the social democratic nations which have rising birthrates as a result of means such as the state assuming universal responsibility for childbirth, childcare, and the education of children born out of wedlock.
Ultimately, the population recovery that the Korean nation and society are desperate for is just an impossible dream if holistic transformations are not sought out in the familial-liberal political economy and social policy systems.
|Preface: Capitalism without Society, Intimacy without Social reproduction|
Part 1: Familial Liberalism
- Chapter 2: Individual, Family, and Social Relations in the Age of "Risk Families"
Part 2: Lifeworld, Population Movements, and Social Reproduction
- Chapter 4: From Familial Fertility to Women's Fertility
- Chapter 5: Personalizing the Non-Individualism of the Elderly
1. Introduction: the diversity and fluidity of constructions of senility
- Chapter 7: Entanglement of the Male Working Life and the Family Life Cycle
- Chapter 8: Labor Systems under Developmental Patriarchy and the Era of Common Female Labor
|Part 4: Conclusion
- Chapter 9: Conclusion and Future Outlook: The End of Familial Liberalism?
2. Aversion to social reproduction as a self-imposed structural adjustment of families and individuals
3. Comparative social assessment: familial liberalism's global diversity