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The Circulation of Knowledge and the Dynamics of Transformation


Academy of Korean Studies
Institut für Koreastudien


Prof. Dr. Marion Eggert, Prof. Dr. Joerg Plassen



15.06.2009 — 14.06.2014

Starting point of the research project is the assumption that the enormous social, political and intellectual transformations that Korea has gone through especially during the last century, but already during several periods earlier in her history, should not, as is often the case, be interpreted in a unilinear way as reactions on outward impacts, thus positioning Korea on the receiving end of an assumed international import-export economy of ideas, political systems, and social institutions. This is not only problematic vis-à-vis the important role of Korean actors in supranational transformation processes, but also methodologically unsound. We believe that these transformations, as well as Korea's position in world history, are better understood under the paradigm of circulation of knowledge, thus stressing that Korean actors have, during most phases of history, not passively submitted to brute force, but have consciously chosen options, thereby again affecting external actors. Under the paradigm of circulation, the production, consumption and dissemination of knowledge are looked at as a single, closely knit process which invariably leads to dynamic transformations of both objects of knowledge and their (social and intellectual) context, and in which national borders play a rather unimportant role. By forcing to look closely and in conjunction at the material, intellectual and social factors in transformative processes, this approach will help to achieve a more sophisticated understanding of shifts and dynamics in Korean intellectual, social and political history both at the local level and in its regional context.

This perspective departs decisively from previous debate, in which external impacts on Korea were conceived as contrasting with developments in Korea, rather than regarding both as parts of interlocked processes. By perceiving Koreans as actors who imbibe external impetus and new knowledge, process those within their respective contexts and thus are actively involved in the development of new processes of knowledge circulation in the political, economical and cultural realm, the project may give a new impetus to Korean Studies. Beyond this envisioned contribution to issues internal to Korean Studies, this research project is geared towards generating research results that can be useful for refining general theories of cultural transfer and cultural transformation. Korea with its peculiar geographical position and its history of manifold and incisive cultural and social transformations can serve as an excellent object for case studies on such processes.

Goals and Objectives of the Project

The key objectives of the entire project can be summarized as follows:

Immediate goals:

  • creating a highly visible hub of Korean Studies in central Europe
  • creating a strong infrastructure of social science as well as humanities-based researchers on Korea that will facilitate a continued flow of outstanding researchers and lecturers in Europe, with special regard to integrating Eastern European colleagues

Strategic objectives:

  • overcoming the generally accepted perspective of Korea as passive recipient and raising awareness of the active role of Korean agents in the flow of knowledge circulation, thus enhancing perception of both Korea and Korean Studies
  • raising awareness of the significance of Korean case studies for theoretical considerations, generating further interest by scholars of other disciplines, e.g. political science, historical science, and cultural studies etc.

Research objectives:

  • attaining deeper understanding of the underlying factors of social transformation in Korea throughout history
  • breaking up preconceived ideas of cultural transfer
  • identifying patterns of the transformative dynamics of knowledge circulation

Teaching objectives:

  • strengthened cooperation between the participating institutes
  • diversification of the respective curricula
  • more research-oriented M.A. degree programs, in which students are being involved into the respective sub-projects

[Link to project homepage]