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The politics of struggle in a state–civil society partnership: a case study of a South Korean workfare partnership programme

Kim, Suyoung (2011) The politics of struggle in a state–civil society partnership: a case study of a South Korean workfare partnership programme. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This research investigates the dynamics of the on-going conflict in the state–civil society partnership in South Korea. In recent decades, partnership has become a central strategy for welfare provision worldwide. In accordance with this trend, the Korean government has invited numerous civil society organisations to become local welfare agencies. The workfare programme (called the SSP) is a typical example of such partnerships. Because a large number of anti-poverty organisations have become frontline SSP Centres, the SSP is widely regarded as an icon of participatory welfare. However, contrary to the ideals of democratic governance, some critical studies have argued that collaboration with the state can render civil society agencies susceptible to state demands, gradually undermining their role as advocates for disadvantaged people. In light of such claims, this study has explored the actual politics of the SSP partnership by: 1) analysing policy documents; 2) conducting interviews with 42 actors in the SSP system; and 3) observing a Centre. This research confirms that partnership does not always guarantee a democratic relationship. SSP Centres have gradually been subjected to state intervention, and their open confrontation with the state has evidently abated. Yet SSP Centres have not completely lost their autonomy and spirit of resistance: rather, they have adopted informal and unofficial forms of resistance while maintaining apparent conformity with the state. These street-level activities constitute SSP Centres’ emancipatory role in defending the life-world of poor people against the capitalist state. The implication of this study for the politics of partnership is that current forms of state–civil society partnership need not entail the ‘mutual coproduction’ or the ‘complete co-option’ of civil society to the state. Partnership can be a site of ‘complex struggles’ where civil society actors continue to counteract the control of the dominant system in inflected ways.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Suyoung Kim
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labor
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
Sets: Departments > Social Policy
Supervisor: Dean, Hartley and Li, Bingqin

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