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A Theoretical Examination of the Relationship between Deliberative Conflict Resolution and...

A Theoretical Examination of the Relationship between Deliberative Conflict Resolution and Korean Culture

Dong-Kyun Im ] Department of Urban Sociology, University of Seoul

Sang A Lee ] Department of Urban Sociology, University of Seoul


There has been an increasing interest in using deliberative-democratic methods for public conflict resolution in Korea. At the same time, however, it has been also frequently argued that Korean culture is not compatible with deliberative-democratic conflict resolution. This paper criticizes such an argument and discusses why attributing the cause of conflict resolution failure to Korean culture is deeply problematic. To do so, the paper provides two main critiques. First, it discusses Geert Hofstede's cultural dimensions theory as a prime example of the ‘cultural approach,' and points out the theory's fundamental inability and theoretical instability to offer coherent explanations regarding how culture affects the patterns and processes of conflict resolution. Second, it introduces various theories and insights from cultural sociology and sociological theory of action to discuss why it is problematic to simply assume that Korean culture hinders deliberative-democratic conflict

resolution. Specifically, it focuses on three main possibilities to explain how deliberation can work in Korean contexts: 1) the depth of culture, 2) the creativity of problem-solving actors, and 3) the power of situations. The paper also emphasizes that past studies have often misunderstood the problems of institutions and political inequality as the problem of culture. It contends that the fundamental obstacle to the success of deliberative-democratic solutions is not Korean culture but the lack of consensus-building institutions and the large inequality of power between different actors involved in conflict situations. In conclusion, the paper proposes that it is possible to use deliberative-democratic methods in public conflict resolution situations in Korean-cultural contexts.

Keywords: Conflict Resolution, Deliberative Democracy, Korean Culture, Cultural Sociology, Theory of Action

Journal of Social Science 28(3), 2017.7, 79-97

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