Accepted paper:

Why should you criticise your 'motherland' to foreigners?: the dilemma of critical scholarship and self-censorship in analysing Korea's foreign aid as a national(istic) project


Sung-Mi Kim (University Of Cambridge)

Paper short abstract:

This paper has been written as part of a book project on South-South development cooperation and the politics of knowledge production, led by Dr Emma Mawdsley, Dr Elsje Fourie and Dr Wiebe Nauta.

Paper long abstract:

Even though researchers are not obliged to act as national agents, such pressure is not totally absent. This has tended to create an additional dimension of technical and moral challenges in researching South Korean aid policy. Taking a critical approach to Seoul's donor policy, I found that the political sensitivity was heightened by the fact that foreign aid in Korea (as in many other countries) is closely related to the country's nationalistic, status-seeking aspirations vis-à-vis external audiences. Domestically, I also observed that Korea's burgeoning aid community seemed heavily reliant on government funding and policy narratives in close linkage with the oscillating preferences of the top political leadership. In the highly politicised policy space of Korean foreign aid, it seemed, when the nation's 'face' is an important policy objective, internal criticisms and contestations are expected to be more or less contained domestically and muted towards the outside, limiting the space of critical scholarship. As a junior researcher, my need to maintain good relations with Korean elite interviewees in the government and academia (who could be potential employers and funders of my future research) also complicated the dilemma. This paper critically reflects on the challenges and ambivalences I experienced as a Korean, female, junior researcher, during my PhD fieldwork at the Paris-based OECD, Busan and Seoul between 2011 and 2013, as I interviewed about 30 foreign diplomats and aid experts, and 50 Korean aid bureaucrats, researchers and NGOs.

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