From lifetime employment to self-employment: Learning and job instability in Korea

Open Access
Kim, Jae Yeol
Graduate Program:
Adult Education
Doctor of Education
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
May 22, 2007
Committee Members:
  • Fred Michael Schied, Committee Chair
  • Esther Susana Prins, Committee Member
  • Sharon Louise Falkenstern, Committee Member
  • Ian E Baptiste, Committee Member
  • lifetime employment
  • learning
  • job instability
  • adult learning
  • transformative learning
  • Korean workers
ABSTRACT This study explored the learning process of particular South Korean workers forced to move from being lifelong employees to becoming self-employed after the financial crisis of 1997. The study used a case study method using an ethnographic approach. In depth interviews with nine workers from the Seoul, Incheon, and Kyounggi area were conducted. An ethnographic approach was used because this approach highlights three key aspects: cultural process as an object, reflexivity as a process, and etic and emic as an analysis production. Purposeful sampling using chain sampling was used to select participants. Mezirow¡¯s theory of perspective transformation was used as the theoretical framework for this study. This research addressed the following questions: 1) How did Korean workers learn to deal with their new work situation since the economic crisis of 1997? 2) How did they relate their experiences to the larger economic restructuring that has occurred in Korea since 1997? 3) How have cultural, social and class-based traditions and processes shaped the meaning the workers make of their individual experiences? 4) How has their identity changed in their new self-employed context? 5) How have these Korean workers maintained their occupational pride as self-employed persons since the global economic crisis? Three broad themes emerged: (1) transformation of the concept of lifetime employment; (2) transformation of social and economic status; and (c) transformation in overcoming job instability. In addition, five perspectives were found to be central to understanding the changed situation of these particular Korean workers: (1) recognition of a changed concept of lifetime job; (2) disappointment in changed social-economical status; (3) strong criticism toward the Korean government policy; (4) job instability was connected to the relationship between North and South Korea; and (5) expectation of a new leader and job stability in Korea.