Faculty of Arts


Korean Society and Culture


Why are the Koreas divided into north and south? Why does North Korea threaten the US with nuclear weapons? Why has K-pop become such a global phenomenon?

These are some of the most common questions asked about Korea. To understand Korea’s split, and the realities of the two Koreas, which have developed in completely different ways, it is important to get a deep insight into Korean society, culture, politics and economy.

Today South Korea is characterised by its dynamic economy, vibrant society and interesting popular cultural products. South Korea is the world’s eleventh largest economy and its experiences of rapid economic development and political democratisation serve as a model for many other developing countries. South Korean society, which used to be one of the most homogeneous societies in the world, has become much more multicultural after the 1990s with increasing number of foreign residents, including migrant workers and international brides. Today the South Korean population is rapidly aging and the country records one of the lowest birth rates in the world, which is a serious concern for the country. 

On the other hand, North Korea, which has been competing with the South for political legitimacy and hegemony, has followed a different development path. The country has been ruled by the “Kim family” since its birth on the principles of socialism and “self-reliance” (juche) and it tried to unify the nation by launching the tragic Korean War (1950-53). The country’s economy seriously declined after the 1980s and especially after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Nevertheless, it has maintained a strong military including nuclear weapons and long-range missiles. The year 2018 saw drastic changes in the relationship between the two Koreas and the drama is still unfolding itself in May 2018. What will happen to the two Koreas as the conventional power balance in Northeast Asia is changing and the powerful neighbors of US, China, Japan and Russia are involved?

Taking a topical and comparative approach, this course will focus on:

  • How the modern Korean nation has developed and divided into North Korea and South Korea
  • Korea’s relationship with its neighbours, China, Japan, Russia and the US in terms of both culture and politics
  • Korea’s religious and philosophical traditions and values and their changes in modern times
  • The economic and social changes of South and North Korea
  • The nation-building of North Korea and its leadership
  • Political changes both in South and North Korea
  • Challenges of globalisation and demographic changes in the two Koreas
  • The inter-Korean relationship and future of the Korean Peninsula.

To help understand Korean culture, society and history in a broader regional and global context, the two Koreas will be compared with China, Japan and Taiwan where such comparisons are useful.

At the end of the semester students are expected to have a solid knowledge of the key features and issues on South and North Korean society, culture, politics and international relations. Upon completing this course, students will be ready to take higher level courses on Korea and/or on Asian countries.

View the course syllabus

Availability 2019

Semester 2


Coordinator(s) Dr Changzoo Song


Coursework + exam


KOREAN 120: 15.0 points

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