Skills, Training and Hierarchical Capitalism in South Korea


Skills and Training in Hierarchical Capitalism: The Rise and Fall of Vocational Training in South Korea” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2023.2168207) is a new article co-authored by Timo Fleckenstein of the Department of Social Policy, London School of Economics, Soohyun Christine Lee of the Department of European and International Studies, King’s College London, and Jaehyoung Park, also of the Department of Social Policy at LSE.


The abstract for the paper states:

From an economic model in which education and growth reinforced each other, South Korea has developed a pathological equilibrium holding back economic and social progress. Low labour productivity and skills mismatch undermine the economic prospects of the country, and sharp rises in inequality in an ever more dualised labour market erode social cohesion. Governments of different political persuasion have recognised these challenges, and they have thought to reinvigorate vocational education and training (VET). However, this article shows that large employers – which were at the heart of a segmentalist coalition between business and government when collective skills formation of the Developmental State was dismantled – continue to undermine any efforts of meaningful vocational skills formation.


It is argued that the country’s hierarchical production regime and, related to this, labour market dualisation provide the micro-foundations for successive failure in VET reform; and without challenging large employers’ dominant position in the Korean political economy and without addressing labour market dualism, the reform of VET policy can be expected to remain a futile endeavour.

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The Road to Electoral Authoritarianism in Hong Kong

The Road to Electoral Authoritarianism: Tracing Three Phases of State-Society Contention in Post-Colonial Hong Kong, 2003–2020” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336. 2022.2159856) is a new JCA article by independent researcher Thomas Yun-tong Tang and Michelle W.T. Cheng of the Graduate School, The Education University of Hong Kong.

The abstract for the paper states:

Previous studies have examined Hong Kong’s hybrid regime by investigating the interactions among activists, the local government, and the Chinese national government. This article adopts the lens of contentious politics and a multi-level approach to understand regime evolution within the local-national-regional-global nexus. It presents an original dataset that records movement tactics and state responses in four major protests and delineates three phases of state-society contention between 2003 and 2020. It explains regime evolution by highlighting five intertwining factors: activists’ tactical learning; organisational ecology in civil society; state repression strategies; regional politics in Greater China; and international political economy. It finds that the first phase (2003–2012) was characterised by an increasing use of disruptive tactics, an emergent call for de-centred mobilisation, and a limited deployment of state security forces. The second phase (2013–2015) exhibited nascent applications of violent tactics, while the state employed more forceful police repression, re-engineered the electoral field, and sponsored counter-mobilisation. The most recent phase (2016–2020) showed activists’ intensified use of violent tactics and a strong intention to seek international support. The state responded to local threats and international pressure with violent crackdowns and stricter institutional arrangements, which has resulted in an electoral authoritarian regime that is less-than-competitive.

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Deflation Interrupted?

JCA co-editor Richard Westra has a piece at the Socialist Project’s The Bullet titled “Deflation Interrupted?

Free to read.

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Hong Kong Diaspora Activism

Hongkongers’ International Front: Diaspora Activism During and After the 2019 Anti-Extradition Protest” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2023.2168208) is a new article by Ming-Sho Ho of the Department of Sociology, National Taiwan University in Taipei.

The abstract for the paper states:

The flare-up of protests over Hong Kong’s anti-extradition bill amendment in 2019 gave rise to a global wave of organising among the city’s overseas diaspora of students and migrants, persisting after the city’s protest movement declined due to COVID-19 and repression. Based on 85 in-depth interviews with overseas activists as well as journalistic and social media data on events in six cities, this article examines the diaspora’s pro-democracy campaign. Easily surpassing the previous mobilisational waves of 1989 and 2014, the newer diaspora activism gave rise to more numerous and widespread organisations, which were mostly decentralised and loosely connected. Responding to the rise and fall of protests in the home city, campaigners shifted from supplying protest-related gear to sheltering fleeing refugees, with the diaspora activism evolving into a global resistance against China’s authoritarian expansion. Counter-protests by pro-China supporters increased publicity for the campaign, but also brought threats to personal safety. With the exception of Taiwan, Hongkongers found it difficult to localise their agenda in host countries, and their efforts were frustrated by growing political polarisation in Western democracies.

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Thailand’s 1932 and its Reformers

Amnesia. A History of Democratic Idealism in Modern Thailand is an excellent book by Arjun Subrahmanyan, and published by the State University of New York Press. It is reviewed for JCA by Kevin Hewison.

Recent anti-monarchy/monarchy reform movements have added to an appetite for more knowledge of the people and events of 1932. Subrahmanyan’s outstanding Amnesia came out at just the right time. The author delivers a deft historical account that should sate the appetite of activists wanting to know more about 1932 and will also satisfy those who seek to better understand the events of the 1932–1949 period.

Hewison points out that those with an interest in Thailand’s history and politics know that 1932 is a pivotal date. However, as Subrahmanyan’s title intimates, much has been ignored, forgotten, or scrambled by royalist ideology and propaganda. Amnesia is a book mainly about idealists who took the 1932 revolution seriously and tried to create a better Thailand.

The reviewer concludes that Amnesia provides a refreshingly well-researched and eloquent account of a period that provided some hope for democratic idealists. The book deserves a wide readership to better contextualise contemporary political opposition and to better understand the past.

50 free online copies of the review are available:

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Thai Students in Revolt

In a new Commentary for JCA, Chyatat Supachalasai of the Faculty of Political Science, Ramkhamhaeng University in Bangkok, Thailand provides an approach to understanding recent calls for reform in Thailand.

In the abstract for “Thai Youth Liberation as a Politico-Economic Force: A Critique of Hierarchical Capitalism and the Authoritarian State” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2023.2165134) it is stated:

This article argues that the 2020–2022 youth liberation movement in Thailand represents a crucial politico-economic force calling for an alternative version of Thai capitalism. In contrast to existing literature that views the contest between young protesters and the military-backed government as a generation division and national polarisation, this article argues that the movement is a catalyst for the rearticulation and restructuring of Thai capitalism. The movement has prioritised democracy but has also targeted Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s economic policy that exacerbates economic disparity. This emphasis urges us to revisit the history of Thailand’s capitalism. While some in Thailand had benefited spectacularly during periods of capitalist expansion, facilitated by links between capitalists and the state, the movement’s political agenda seeks a capitalism that is less oppressive and more egalitarian. This has caused generational tensions, even among members of the same family. By highlighting such complex tensions associated with capitalism, family, and the state, the youth liberation movement has brought the country to a crossroads, calling for a societal transformation and new economic practices that modify or reform existing capitalism through measures such as the welfare state, a universal basic income, and income redistribution.

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2022 South Korean Presidential Election

Faris Al-Fadhat

In a new Commentary for JCA, Faris Al-Fadhat of the Department of International Relations, Universitas Muhammadiyah Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Jin-Wook Choi of the Department of Public Administration, Korea University, The Republic of Korea look at the recent presidential election in South Korea.

Jin-Wook Choi

The abstract for “Insights from the 2022 South Korean Presidential Election: Polarisation, Fractured Politics, Inequality, and Constraints on Power” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2023.2164937) states:

This article investigates the outcomes and examines the implications of South Korea’s 2022 presidential election on the country’s domestic politics and economics, specifically regarding the new government’s exercise of executive power. While the 2022 election saw the return of the conservatives to power after five years of a progressive government, this article argues that the election won by Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party reflects the growing polarised politics along partisan lines between conservatives and progressives – rooted in the contingency of class formation through the long-standing neo-liberal policy of the South Korean developmental state. Such political divide, which has taken place amid the broader context of the increasing polarising populism across developed and developing countries in recent years, constrains the Yoon administration from addressing domestic issues, notably economic woes such as ongoing income inequality, sluggish job creation, fluctuating housing prices, as well as corruption that links high-profile politicians and chaebol. Although power compromise with opponents is essential to cope with limitations, this article contends that it is less likely under the circumstances of severe political tensions between the ruling and opposition parties.

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Platform Precarity and Food-Delivery Work in China

“The Food Delivered is More Valuable Than My Life”: Understanding the Platform Precarity of Online Food-Delivery Work in China (DOI: 10.1080/00472336. 2022.2155866) is a new article for JCA by Hui Huang of the Department of International Development, Faculty of Social Science and Public Policy, King’s College London, UK.

The abstract for the article states:

This article investigates the precarious labour conditions of Chinese food-delivery drivers in the platform economy. Drawing on one year of ethnographic fieldwork where the author worked as a food-delivery driver in Shanghai, the three key forces producing precarity in the platform labour regime are explored: (i) the platform circumvents its employer responsibilities for drivers by outsourcing the labour services of food delivery to third-party labour-hires companies; (ii) predatory algorithmic management is leveraged by the platform to control the labour process for excessive exploitation; and (iii) the institutional deprivation of citizenship rights of the rural migrants converts drivers into urban denizens with a vulnerable socio-economic labour environment. These determinants combine to produce low-paid, insecure, uncertain, and dangerous working conditions which food delivery drivers have limited power to resist both at individual and collective levels. Building on these findings, this article argues that the peculiar intersection of bogus triangular employment relations, predatory algorithmic control, and the subservient citizenship of rural migrants, produces precarity in the platform labour regime. The article highlights the role of the state and management in producing the precarity experienced by Chinese food-delivery drivers and contributes to understanding the work precarity of the platform economy in the digital age.


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Police Shootings in Indonesia, 2005-2014

Jacqui Baker

Is Indonesian Police Violence Excessive? The Dynamics of Police Shootings, 2005–2014” (DOI: 10.1080/00472336.2022.2138773) is a new article by Jacqui Baker of the  Asia Research Centre at Murdoch University in Perth, Australia and Rus’an Nasrudin of the Institute for Economic and Social Research at the University of Indonesia in Jakarta, Indonesia.

The abstract for the paper states:

Rus’an Nasrudin

In Indonesia, debates about police use of force occur in the absence of data, with empirical and theoretical consequences for how the problem of police shootings is framed and understood. This article makes a first contribution to addressing that absence by analysing the National Violence Monitoring System dataset for spatial and temporal patterns in police shooting rates across provinces from 2005 to 2014, the nine years prior to the first term of President Joko Widodo. It assesses the causal relationship between police shootings and officer perceptions of threat in the environments where they operated threat. For the period surveyed, it is found that while police shooting rates were comparatively low, police officers had a significant monopoly on firearm-related violence and operated in environments of low perceived threat. No causal relationship is found between police shootings and police perceptions of threat.

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Political Economy of China’s Railways

In a new review for JCA, Karl Yan of the School of Humanities and Social Science, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shenzhen, Shenzhen, Guangdong looks at Xiao Ma’s Localized Bargaining: The Political Economy of China’s High-Speed Railway Program, published by Oxford University Press.

Railways are emblematic of China’s rise and its industrialisation. Given the limited knowledge available on the political processes that lie behind public policy decisions and project implementation, it makes sense to look at this sector as a lens of these processes. (For more on such processes involving Chinese infrastructure projects internationally, see “Domestic Actors and the Limits of Chinese Infrastructure Power: Evidence from Pakistan” by Muhammad Tayyab Safdar.)

Yan says that Ma “diligently explores the political processes” involved with China’s high-speed railways and their distribution across the country. In so this, examining the range of actors involved, “Ma shows that local governments, through localised bargaining, play a salient role in shaping the allocation of HSR development, and more powerful localities are in a better position to secure policy benefits.”

While seeing some limitations in the analysis, Yan contends that “Localized Bargaining is an important addition to the literature, providing insights into one of the most salient aspects of Chinese politics – the triangulated relationship between top decision-makers, local bureaucrats, and the masses.”

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