An Aristotelian-Communitarian Reading of South Korea’s Saemaul Undong and South Korean Society: Originarity & the Importance of Language vis-à-vis Sub-Saharan Africa and South Africa

  •  Casper Hendrik Claassen    


In this essay it is posited that an Aristotelian reading of Saemaul Undong – a hugely successful South Korean rural development scheme implemented in the 1970s which led to the near eradication of rural poverty – can provide an understanding of the dynamics that were involved in this scheme and how these dynamics allowed for the transformation of feelings of hopelessness and indifference within the rural population of South Korea into feelings which were conducive to rural development. It is argued that Saemaul Undong can be, to some extent, equated with the Polis (city-state) as understood by Aristotle and through this equation the character-building as well as community-building properties of Saemaul Undong can be understood. It is argued that sub-Saharan Africa could potentially benefit from the adoption of something akin to Saemaul Undong, both in the micro sense of the transformation of both individual and communal feelings and the capacity for the construction of a collective identity (vital in a largely heterogeneous region) inherent within Saemaul Undong, as well as the skills acquired by those involved through participation in this process, and in the macro sense of the eradication of rural poverty. From this foundation an attempt will be made to incorporate the notion of Originarity, as formulated by Leopold Peeters, as well as the notion that humans externalise their existence by means of language. Moreover, South Korean society and cinema will also be investigated within the context of the aforementioned.

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