Self-Help is Political: How Organic Farming Creates an Autonomous Space within the South Korean Nation State

    Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


    While a nation state protects its people from other nation states, what protects the people from their own nation state? In raising this question, I have in mind contemporary East Asian societies where rivalry among nation states is used to justify the people’s sacrifices for the nation. I highlight the fact that the East Asian nation states have repressed the spontaneous creation of grassroots communities, and I argue that building small-scale self-help communities is the key for people to regain autonomy and cope with threats caused by national politics. I illustrate this with the case of the organic farming movement in South Korea. The practice of communal self-help in South Korea’s organic farming movement started in 1976 with the creation of Chŏngnonghoe, an association of “righteous farmers.” Since its beginning under the military government of the 1970s, the organic farming movement has been an effort to seek rural autonomy—an ideal conceived by Christian nationalists in the colonial period of the 1920s. The 1920s Christian nationalism combined with the Danish model of rural movement based on cooperatives and adult education provided the early organic farmers with an alternative path of modernisation to deviate from the government’s state-oriented model. In this way, the movement aimed to create a communal space autonomous from the state’s rural control.
    Original languageEnglish
    Title of host publicationThe Living Politics of Self-Help Movements in East Asia
    Editors T Cliff, T Morris-Suzuki & S Wei
    Place of PublicationSingapore
    PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
    ISBN (Print)9789811063374
    Publication statusPublished - 2018


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