Dissertation Abstracts

Animating Globalization and Development: The South Korean Animation Industry in Historical-Comparative Perspective

Author: Lee, Joonkoo , joonklee@hanyang.ac.kr
Department: Sociology
University: Duke University, USA
Supervisor: Gary Gereffi
Year of completion: 2011
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Global value chain , Animation industry , Development , South Korea
Areas of Research: Historical and Comparative Sociology , Economy and Society , Social Transformations and Sociology of Development


Over the last decades, the global flow of cultural goods and services has significantly grown as a result of liberalized international trade and investment and technological advance. Global cultural production is now flexibly organized and geographically and organizationally decentralized. Yet, the question of how globalization has affected the structure of global cultural industries and upgrading dynamics has not been taken seriously. This study takes up this question by examining the animation industry in South Korea (“Korea” hereafter) and its changing relationship with global animation production from an historical-comparative perspective from the mid-1960s to the late 2000s.

Based upon the author’s field interviews in Korea, India and Japan and secondary literature, this study finds that the animation industry has been globalized over the last four decades with two distinctive waves of globalization. The first wave until the 1980s involved the rise of offshore outsourcing networks linking the U.S. market to East Asian suppliers. The second wave beginning in the 1990s has restructured the industry through the consolidation and global expansion of media conglomerates, the relocation of offshore outsourcing, and the growth of the animation industry in emerging economies.

The Korean animation industry has undergone three distinctive phases with different patterns of the interaction between global and local forces. The first phase leading up to the mid-1980s is characterized by a gradual integration to global production networks through small-scale processing. The ensuring large-scale, outsourcing-based export growth defines the second phase up until the end of the 1990s. The latest phase is the outcome of a new path in the late 1990s toward upgrading based on local production and international coproduction.

A disaggregated analysis of global forces at the global value chain (GVC) level shows marked differences between U.S. and Japanese outsourcing chains for various aspects including chain structure, firm characteristics, and chain governance. These differences generated distinctive upgrading patterns among two segmented local supplier groups. A quick build-up of large-scale production by consolidated suppliers in the U.S. chains contrasts to a slower pace of upgrading by a large group of fragmented suppliers in Japanese chains. While the structure of emerging international coproduction chains varies by project, power relations between the partner firms are critical to determine the gains captured.

Finally, as for the role of the state, the finding of this study supports the reconfiguration argument, suggesting that the developmental state, at least in Korea, is not in eclipse but bolstered with a new mode of state intervention and developmental alliance. In the face of growing competitiveness pressure on Korean firms at home and abroad, state-led, export-oriented development strategies have been rather strengthened and extended. Sector-specific industrial policy has increased, not decreased, particularly after the economic crisis of the late 1990s.

These findings are compared and contrasted to the experience of the Indian animation industry to draw implications for upgrading in the global cultural economy.

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