Toward NICs Political Ecology: Territorialization, Scale, and Landscape on the Jeju Olle Trail, South Korea
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This dissertation examines the production of scale as a strategy used to capture political and economic benefits deriving from an ecotourism development project in South Korea. It contributes to understanding how struggles over controlling “nature” deepen the marginalization of those who derive their livelihoods from the land by answering the following questions: 1) How do states deploy scale in creating a new scale of capital accumulation through struggles with nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) over controlling an ecotourism project? 2) How do historical relationships determine the processes and outcomes of the coproduction of scale and nature? 3) How do the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province, the Jeju Olle Foundation, Jeju people, and tourists struggle over ownership of landscape? In answering these questions, I also answer an overarching question: What does the context of South Korea as a Newly Industrialized Country mean for the outcomes of these struggles? Evidence from ethnographic fieldwork suggests that NGO ecotourism interventions begin a process of “accumulation by dispossession” that the decentralized developmental state subsequently seeks to control. Because tourists are the source of state and/or NGO political economic power, their needs overtake the economic needs of residents. Local residents find themselves entangled in both state and NGO power struggles while simultaneously attempting to maintain agricultural livelihoods and close kinship relations disrupted by the establishment of the ecotourism project. The outcome of these struggles is the opening of new channels for capital accumulation for outsiders, leaving proclaimed beneficiaries of the ecotourism project on the political economic margins, as they have been throughout South Korea’s history. The dissertation contributes to scale theory literature by demonstrating the process through which states reinforce authority on people and land by actively deploying scale while decentralizing. It also contributes to political ecology studies that draw on the simultaneous production of nature and scale by showing how an ecotourism project (1) depoliticizes state support of middle-class capital accumulation through ecotourism and (2) deepens historical uneven development among regions in South Korea. Lastly, the dissertation fills a gap in political ecology studies by examining the political ecological impacts in places where the use value of landscape shifts rapidly from livelihoods to aesthetics due to in-country economic growth. By doing so, the study speaks to debates on the false dichotomy of First and Third World political ecologies. It introduces a new “newly industrialized country (NIC) political ecology” focused on this unique political economic context that generates particular struggles between state/non-state actor struggles over nature.
Nam, Sou Yeon (2016). Toward NICs Political Ecology: Territorialization, Scale, and Landscape on the Jeju Olle Trail, South Korea. Doctoral dissertation, Texas A & M University. Available electronically from