The Enjoyment of Being a Leader: Fantasy and Misrecognition in Korea’s Saemaul (New Village) Movement

Mr Christian Caiconte1

1University of Sydney, Camperdown, Australia

The Saemaul (New Village) Movement, Park Chung Hee’s initiative for Korea’s rural infrastructural development, was a key ideological component of the country’s rapid capitalist development in the 1970s. The state-appointed Saemaul leaders were not only responsible for the economic transformation of their rural communities but also for the diffusion of the cultural values promoted by the state. However, despite their relevance to the success of the Park regime, the role played by Saemaul leaders has been obscured by approaches such as the developmental state theory that emphasises the power of the Korean state over a “docile” and “weak” Korean labour. This paper argues that the debate on Korea’s late development is incomplete without a theorisation of the agency of these developmental subjects (the Saemaul leaders), who agreed with and willingly worked for the regime. To this purpose, the paper draws on the Lacanian psychoanalytic concepts of surplus enjoyment, misrecognition and fantasy to make sense of the peasantry’s support to the movement despite widespread labour repression and exploitation. The analysis of autobiographical documents written by Saemaul leaders will show that Park’s developmental project was based on a social fantasy that provided peasants with the (mis)recognition from society that they unconsciously desired.


Christian Caiconte is a PhD candidate in the Department of Political Economy at the University of Sydney, Australia. His research interests are at the intersection of political economy, psychoanalysis, and development studies. His doctoral thesis articulates a Marxist-psychoanalytic critique of capitalist development in South Korea.



The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd