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Book and Article

What Sewol Ferry Asks us: The Sociology of Disaster and Publicness

by 사용자 SNU Sociology 2019. 11. 25.

Supported by the Institute for Social Development and Policy Research, Seoul National University

Written by Dukjin Chang and others


Contents 

1. Questions Raised by the Sewol Ferry Disaster

2. Sinking of Sewol and the Sociology of Disaster

3. The Problem is Publicness

4. Disaster in the Age when “Us“ is Missing: The Fukushima Nuclear Disaster

5. Hurricane Katrina: Who Calls It a Natural Disaster?

6. The Decision to Shut Nuclear Plants in Germany Following Social Consensus

7. Delta Works: How to Not Forget National Disaster

8. What Should We Do? Towards Shifting the Sewol Ferry Paradigm


This book is a result of a joint efforts made by the researchers of the Institute for Social Development and Policy Research of Seoul National University to better understand the Sewol ferry disaster. What caused the absurd catastrophe to occur? Why have we continued to undergo this process of repeating similar disasters for decades? And, considering this, why have things not improved?

These are the questions we must be able to answer in order to reduce the number of similar tragedies in the future. The task of trying not to forget it one of utmost importance. It is important because only through working, despite the pain, to not forget these tragedies can the predominant view, which sees tragedy as simply the cost of investment into safety, be changed.

To understand the Sewol ferry disaster properly we must, paradoxically, explore the external factors of the event, rather than looking into it directly. We must first direct our attention to the fact that safety is a public good. No matter how powerful, wealthy, or competent an individual, they alone cannot create safety. In situations in which safety is not secured as a public good, people can only strive to escape from danger through their own ability.

Their attempts sometimes appear successful but, in truth, they are not. In a risk society, especially in a dual-risk society where danger arises from both the past and future, like in Korea, any attempt to escape from danger using one’s individual abilities cannot help but to fail. The difference is merely in how quickly or to what degree an individual fails. What we need is a collective attempt to prevent risk. This is why we regard the question of disaster as a question of publicness.

As we constructed a publicness index for 30 OECD member countries for which data were available and analyzed their publicness types and ranking, we discovered that Korean society is in the midsts of a serious publicness crisis.

Korea was ranked lowest when it comes to publicness and the types of publicness in Korea correspond to exclusionary liberalism. We often emphasize the choices and responsibility of individuals in the free market economy. However, there should be prerequisites. At least, the equality of opportunities should be guaranteed, the rules of the market should be followed, the information on common issues should be transparent, and actual participation should be assured. We tend to only underline the choices and responsibilities of individuals without meeting these preconditions which leads to a “society of selfish individuals” in which individuals first find ways to take care of themselves rather than contributing to the common interest. This lack of publicness causes the “individualization of risk” rather and discourages collective responses to risk.

We compared and analyzed the Fukushima nuclear disaster of Japan, Hurricane Katrina of the United States, the decision to shut down nuclear power plants in Germany, and the North Sea flood of Netherlands in order to look into how the countries with high publicness react to disasters.

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