Why populists are populistic?: “K-Bio” amid COVID-19 and bio favoritism in South Korea

Authors: So Hyung Lim*, University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Political Geography, Asia
Keywords: Disaster governance, disaster capitalism, crony capitalism, pandemic, coronavirus, testing kits, stock market bubbles, South Korea
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 4:50 AM / 6:05 AM
Room: Virtual 16
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Upon the emergence of COVID-19, institutional agencies have undertaken the role of organizing an effective response to the global threat. Progressive scholars criticized the neoliberal role of the state with the notion of disaster capitalism. However, the reliance on this notion has a potential to undermine commercial interests that thrive not as an outcome of a crisis, but as the nature of capitalism. By demonstrating how the South Korean state’s COVID-19 handling took advantage of capitalistic favoritism beyond disaster capitalism, this research examines the crisis governance that appears not only as a peculiar state of affairs, but as a self-preservation imperative of sociopolitical dynamics of neoliberalism. Success in halting the pandemic by the Korean government, which has driven the positive international attention to the Korean state’s COVID-19 measures, seemed to inspire its institutional push ahead with the sloganeering of “K-Bio”. Behind the nationalistic scenes, however, anastronomical amount of emergency funds was given to bio and pharma industries along with othering health professionals who criticized the government’s uneven regulation. Further, this commercial force amid the pandemic has been intertwined with a wide range of neoliberal reforms of bio and pharma market deregulations, preferentialism, and stock bubbles even before the pandemic. By examining the sociopolitical dynamics of medical populism drawing from textual analysis and interviews, this paper contributes to political geographic studies of disaster governance. Ultimately, I call for a sharper lens to analyze governmental practices in pandemic or epidemic responses to see neoliberalism as nonlinear and unstraightforward processes and experiments.

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