Anthropological Research on the Possibility and Conditions of Sustainable Community Development in Korean Provincial Society

Research Project , Research Report 2006

HONDA, Hiroshi Associate Professor, Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology, The University of Tokyo


In this research, I have discussed the possibility and conditions of sustainable community development in Korean provincial society through examining two cases of practices concerning community development in Namw?n, South-western Korea. Firstly, in the case of a local festival called Ch’unhyangje, the festival originated under the Colonial Rule as an amalgam of the status traditions of pre-modern origins and elements of culture brought from the modern West has decreased its attraction as a popular amusement in the process of the industrialization and the proliferation of mass consumption. In the meantime, the virtual right to sponsor each of its long-established events as well as a share of the subsidies from the local and the national governments has come to be monopolized by a restricted number of local agents, which prevent other ambitious agents in and out of the local community to revitalize these old-fashioned events as well as to make innovative attempts. Secondly, in the case of traditional woodwork which revived in the end of 1970’s due to the abrupt rise of a demand among the increasing urban residents for the lacquered wooden vessels used specially in Confucian rites, its production has stagnated since the middle of 1990’s due to the saturation of its demand and the long-lasting depression after the financial crisis in 1997. In this process, many of the trained artisans and entrepreneurs lost their will to sustain the local industry. In the Korean local communities today, the effectiveness of local cultural festivals such as Ch’unhyangje or local industries such as Namw?n woodwork is often gauged in terms of their consumption as cultural commodity. However, under the present conditions where cultural commodities to be consumed are diversified, segmented and competing with one another, it would not be necessarily productive to discuss sustainability of development concerning local cultural assets in terms of their consumption. On the other hand, involvement in community development by the local government would often hinder heterogeneous active agents in and out of the community from participating in the practices of development as far as its involvement is mostly restricted to subsidizing established agents. As a tentative prospect, it could be supposed that participation rather than consumption, and participation by heterogeneous agents rather than vested interest rights be more effective as a framework to discuss sustainability of community development in Korean provincial society.


Korea, community development, industrialization, consumption of culture, participation