A Crisis of Identity: the Kwa-hak-ki-sul-ja (Scientist-engineer) in Contemporary Korea

TitleA Crisis of Identity: the Kwa-hak-ki-sul-ja (Scientist-engineer) in Contemporary Korea
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsHan, K.
Secondary TitleEngineering Studies
ISBN Number1937-8629
Keywordscrisis of identity, discourse of crisis, Korean engineer, professional identity, science and engineering crisis, scientist-engineer

This essay examines the so-called "science and engineering crisis" during the period 2001-2004 in Korea as a crisis of identity for the Kwa-hak-ki-sul-ja, or scientist-engineer. The emergent discourse of crisis was a unique phenomenon in that scientist-engineers began to speak out loudly and publicly. Existing approaches to the study of the crisis have mainly taken note of its institutional, economic, and cultural aspects, but these fall short of fully explaining why the discourse of crisis scaled up so broadly across Korea. To understand the emergence of the discourse, I explore the historical experiences through which the identities of Korean engineers have evolved. I focus on the early formation of low-level technical workers under Japanese rule, the differentiation of engineers as a group in the rapid industrialization process, and the emergence of ambiguities in the identities of scientist-engineers since the late 1980s. It is important that scientist-engineers themselves contributed to the discourse of science and engineering crisis, albeit in a disorganized manner. On the surface, their concerns seemed to be economic and social in content, but at a more fundamental level they were expressing confusion about their identity in a rapidly changing society and seeking ways of responding to newly emerging social roles and responsibilities. To them the broader discourse of crisis was a crisis of identity.