Jin Wook Shin: Characteristics of South Korea's Response to the COVID-19 Crisis and Its Social Consequences
South Korea is a notable example of defending, at least so far, three crucial values amid the Covid-19 pandemic crisis: health security, democracy, and economic growth. This success can be explained by three main factors. First, the government tried to manage the situation with a moderate level of restriction through swift decisions and implementation. Second, the majority of citizens valued both freedom and security, voluntarily responding to the changing situation and cooperating with quarantine measures. Third, the advanced infrastructure of information and communication technologies has enabled effective sharing of trustworthy information and a blended system of on- and offline communication in every sector of society. This success demonstrated the strength of South Korean society that has given top priority to economic, technological, and bureaucratic rationality, but at the same time revealed the serious problems behind it. First, the pandemic and the government’s quarantine measure have deepened social inequalities, but the government have not done enough to strengthen public welfare. Second, responses to the pandemic using advanced digital technologies have also enhanced the risk of personal information leakage and surveillance of body and life. Third, the concentration on health security has resulted in a lack of ecological awareness despite the global ecological crisis. Ironically, South Korea has been responding very well to the global health crisis, and because of its success, the pandemic crisis has not served as an opportunity for reflection and reform on the long-standing problems of South Korean social structures and institutions.
Jin-Wook SHIN is Professor of Sociology at the Chung-Ang University, South Korea. He received his PhD in Sociology at the Free University Berlin. He was a fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (2012-13) and a visiting professor at the Free University of Berlin (2012-13) and the University of Graz in Austria (2018). He served as the director of the DAAD-Centre for German and European Studies (ZeDES) at the Chung-Ang University, and a vice-president of the Korean Association of Social Policy. His research interests are democracy, civil society, social movements, social inequality, and the welfare state. Besides a large number of research articles, he has also published books including Modernisierung und Zivilgesellschaft in Südkorea (in German, 2005); Citizen (in Korean, 2008); Growing Inequality and Its Impacts in Korea (in English, co-author, 2014); Multiple Inequalities: The Structure of Inequalities in South Korean Society (in Korean, co-author, 2016).
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