Transition to the ‘Universal Welfare State’: the Changing Meaning of the ‘Welfare State’ in Korea


Kwon Huck-ju, Seoul National University

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Abstract: Over the last fifty years, the welfare state in Korea has evolved from a minimal structure of welfare programmes to a comprehensive set of institutions and policies for social protection. This paper traces changes in understandings of the welfare state articulated by policy makers, examining their political strategies to lead the Korean society to the welfare state. The concept of the welfare state has changed its meaning according to their political strategies at different conjunctures, while the aspiration for the welfare state as an ideal state of affairs, where a certain level of well-being is guaranteed for all by the state, remains strong if not stronger than before. For the welfare state is an essential component of Korea’s modernization project which goes beyond the left and right divide of the Korean politics.

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