Yongusil 56: Building Domain Consensus Through Narrative

By | January 12, 2015 | No Comments

Britain’s Magna Carta between King John and the unruly, aspirational group of aristocratic nobles behind the Barons War of 1215-1217, Hobbes’ Leviathan and Rousseau’s Principles of Political Right are regarded as having begun to outline the political and governmental limits of what is now classed as “modernity.” While phases of industrialization, colonialism, imperialism and capitalism may all have challenged and marked the limits and extent of the politically possible within given domains, in general the field of social and political relations has resolved, evolved, or de-evolved into a position of “Liberal stasis” in our contemporary era.

Under modern or post-modern Liberalism, tensions and disconnects between the more autocratic functions of states, such as surveillance, security, deterrence, and restriction, are buried beneath social modalities of consumption, leisure, and individual attainment. Through the constructed agendas of “civil society” and non-governmental organizations, justice and human rights advocates seek to corral and maintain these boundary tensions so far as state, social, and individual relations are concerned, thus building a complex, policed, and well defended consensus. Ultimately, this complex web of checks, counter checks, and social boundaries means that it is difficult to conceive of a political, social, or cultural space which is differently organized or managed yet remains subject to the same consensual processes.

Political theorists such as Max Weber and Thomas Callaghy have given extensive theoretical outline to the practice and function of consensus within political domains. More recently (2013), Professor John Delury of Yonsei University deployed the notion of “domain consensus” (without actually using the phrase) in the field of North Korea analysis; readers may also be familiar with Sino-NK’s analysis of Delury’s argument and conception.

This Yongusil heralds the further development of the thoughts and writings of Sino-NK members on this subject, crystallized in the form of a new article for the Review of Korean Studies entitled “How Authoritarian Regimes Maintain Domain Consensus: North Korea’s Information Strategies in the Kim Jong-un Era.” In this intriguing paper, Adam Cathcart, Christopher Green, and Steven Denney outline a new element and vector to the expression and construction of domain consensus, one not based on the economic or industrial success of North Korean institutions, nor on the enforcement or control of domain.

Within their strictly defined scope conditions, the authors instead outline how domain consensus might be built or sustained through acts and processes of media and information presentation. Within this analytic structure, North Korean musical groups such as the Moranbong Band, successful sporting events, and even the recovery and reintegration of citizens who were once conceived of as defectors, can serve purposes of both entertainment and political legitimation. While in a sense these two concepts might seem categorically opposed, in the domain that is North Korea, the fact, function, and possibility of entertainment and sport serve not simply to underpin the political legitimacy and authority of past or present Kimist leaders and their politics, but also to build and develop future sovereign domains–domains in which Socialist and revolutionary modernity can persist. Given the apparently ephemeral and confusing content of much of North Korea’s narrative output, the authors may well have produced a useful and insightful framework to support further successful academic and empirical analysis of the more esoteric strands produced from within Pyongyang’s domain.

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