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∙ Current position: Academy of Finland Postdoctoral Researcher, Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Helsinki
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Saturday, December 04, 2004

"Self-employment, no rescue": lack of "self-employment culture"

Continuing to see what Donga Ilbo writes in the third installment of its serial "Self-employment, no rescue"; this time the title goes "Lack of culture of self-employment". As an anthro, one gets wary when hearing talk of "lack of culture", but let's see.
In the piece, the "lack of culture of self-employment" means mainly the lack of proper infrastructure. It's interesting that also the Confucian tradition of contempt towards trading is mentioned. (In the Confucian division of occupations into four, merchants were at the bottom: 士農工商 [sa-nong-kong-sang] - scholars, peasants, artisans, merchants. When one-restaurant keeping man told of the treatment he got in the offices when delivering meals, he used the Korean proverb "not even a dog carries trader's money" (장삿동 개도 안 물어간다) to illustrate this phenomenon.)

The persistent idea that "food business (môngnûn changsa) cannot fail" is given as one example of wrong attitude towards self-employment. It's said that such idea stems from the time when the competition was not as intense as nowadays. True, the proportion of services (to which restaurants are counted) of self-employment has grown, but in general the proportion of self-employment in the urban occupational structure has not changed considerably throughout decades, so broadly put the competition has been there all the time. (The tendency to rush into a branch which at some time seems to be successful shifts the areas of competition quickly.)

Self-employment (or small shopkeeping) in Korea is a an occupation which is reproduced in a manner that does not contribute well to formation of "culture" or a time-tested set of practices. Businesskeeping is rarely thought of something to hand over to one's offspring but rather as something to have for the children not to engage in the same occupation. If possible, children are kept away from the shops, especially at the time of their most pressing school duties. Only if the child doesn't show much propensity for school studies, comes self-employment in as an alternative.
(This might be changing with the changes in employment, reduction of steady wage employment. I'm not counting the "professional self-employment" like the venture businesses here, which is conceptually different from the kind of small businesses we're talking here.)
The serial article list in Donga
• The next article: problems with franchise businesses

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