ABSTRACT

Half a century ago, South Korea was in specific ways very similar to other low-income societies and in other ways very distinct. The similarities included the nascent change from being a largely rural, agricultural society to being a mostly urban, industrial one. The symptoms of this shift mirrored those in other societies. Cities grew rapidly, villages were drained of young people, and the existing housing supply was insufficient to accommodate the numbers of rural migrants. Like governments in many developing societies, the South Korean leadership was concerned about the social aspect of this structural shift. What made the South Korean state stand out from most other governments was that it was in many respects tremendously effective in guiding social and economic change. An inherited colonial administrative apparatus and a war had given the state impressive resources for controlling society. Regimes led by former military figures after the 16 May 1961 coup meant that the political elite was basically free of democratic checks on power. The state of the 1960s and 1970s had massive ambitions for transforming society. In a variety of areas, the state realised elite visions for creating social solidarity and disciplining citizens.1 Seoul’s leaders deployed the tools of this powerful state on missions to eliminate squatting.2