The stranded individualizer under compressed modernity: South Korean women in individualization without individualism




South Korean families have functioned as a highly effective receptacle for the country's highly compressed conditions of modernity and late modernity. It is as much due to the success of South Korean families as an engine of compressed modernity as due to their failure that they have become functionally overloaded and socially risk-ridden. Such familial burdens and risks are particularly onerous to South Korean women because of the fundamentally gender-based structure of family relations and duties that has in part been recycled from the Confucian past and in part manufactured under industrial capitalism. Under these complicated conditions, South Korean women have had to dramatically restructure their family relations and duties as well as their individual life choices. Furthermore, under the most recent condition of what Beck calls second modernity, other institutions of modernity, such as the state, industrial economy, firms, unions, schools, and welfare systems, have become increasingly ineffective in helping to alleviate such (gender-based) familial burdens and dilemmas. As a result South Korean women have experienced dramatic changes in marriage patterns, fertility, family relations, etc. South Korean women's individualization has thereby taken place primarily as a matter of practicality rather than ideational change. A brief analysis of the situation in the neighbouring societies of Japan and Taiwan reinforces the conclusion that individualization without individualism, particularly among women, is a region-wide phenomenon in East Asia.