Abstract This article provides a critical intervention into South Korea’s recent effort to promote its 1970s authoritarian-era rural modernization program, Saemaul Undong (New Village Movement), as the ‘iconic’ model of its international development assistance. To better understand how this movement has been represented, this article examines the policy narratives that have been produced by the Korean government’s Knowledge Sharing Program (KSP) and circulated through multiple development cooperation initiatives. These narratives portray Saemaul as the key to Korea’s developmental success: a mental revolution in values that inculcated the ‘can-do’ spirit in poor rural villagers and allowed them to escape poverty and stagnation. We argue that the emphasis of this narrative on the spiritual, voluntary, and value-oriented nature of the movement has been used to ‘render technical’ Korea’s development experience: i.e. to reduce it to a question of how development experts successfully cultivated the spirit of development in the Korean people and, by extension, how developing countries might do the same. We show how this narrative neglects the contested history and Cold War context of Saemaul, raising questions about the ‘brand’ of development assistance that has been built upon it.
- South-South Cooperation