As nationalism and identity politics have come to dominate public spheres around the world, researchers strive to understand the repercussions of such political behavior. How does nationalism affect the health of a democratic system, and when might it foster well-functioning liberal democracy?
This is the central question that Gidong Kim, APARC’s 2023-25 Korea Program Postdoctoral Fellow, seeks to answer. Kim’s research, situated at the intersection of comparative politics and political economy, focuses on nationalism and identity politics, inequality and redistribution, and migration in South Korea and East Asia. He earned his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Missouri. In his dissertation, “Nationalism and Redistribution in New Democracies: Nationalist Legacies of Authoritarian Regimes,” he investigated the micro-level underpinnings that sustain weak welfare systems in developmental states.
As part of his fellowship, Kim works with the Stanford Next Asia Policy Lab (SNAPL), a new initiative housed at Shorenstein APARC under the directorship of Professor Gi-Wook Shin. The Lab works to provide evidence-based policy recommendations to help implement structural reforms that foster a “Next Asia” characterized by social, cultural, and economic maturity.
On January 24, 2024, Dr. Kim will present his research at a seminar hosted by the Korea Program. You can register for the event, "Narratives of Inclusion: Evidence from South Korea’s Migration Challenge."
We caught up with Dr. Kim to hear more about his fellowship experience this academic year and what’s next. The conversation has been slightly edited for length and clarity.
First off, can you describe your current research project?
Broadly speaking, as a comparative political scientist, I study nationalism and its behavioral consequences with a regional focus on Korea and East Asia. More specifically, because nationalism is sometimes harmful to liberal democracy, but it can also be helpful, I research when and how national sentiments have either negative or positive effects on liberal democracy through citizens’ political attitudes and behaviors, such as voting behavior, redistribution preferences, migration attitudes, and public opinion on foreign policy.
How did you come to be interested in this topic?
I was born and raised in South Korea and earned my B.A. and M.A. in political science at a Korean university before pursuing my Ph.D. in the United States. Because I was originally interested in partisan politics, my goal was to understand how American voters think and behave, so that I can explain Korean politics using theories developed in the United States. However, as I took graduate seminars about American politics, I – both as a Korean and as an East Asian – learned that such theories could not be applied well to the Korean and East Asian context.
It was my second year of the Ph.D. program when I had academic dissatisfaction about the discrepancy between Western theories and East Asian reality. Dr. Aram Hur, my doctoral advisor, has significantly influenced my academic interests and identity. Every conversation that I had with her led me to new insights.
In particular, we focused on nationalism, which can arise not only from each country’s different historical trajectories but also from citizens’ different interpretations and understandings of such trajectories. Since then, based on my personal experience and knowledge of Korea, I tried to challenge the extant political science theories to offer my explanation of Korean and East Asian political dynamics, especially through a lens of nationalism.
How has your time at APARC as a Korea Program Postdoc helped your research?
APARC provides me with the best academic environment. First, everyone at the Center is open and always welcomes me whenever I need their help. For example, if I want to develop and sharpen my research ideas, I can share my ideas anytime with excellent scholars who always give me constructive feedback. I believe the in-person conversations I can have whenever necessary are the best part of APARC from which I benefit.
Moreover, both the Korea Program and APARC organize many events. Our events feature not only scholars but also policymakers. This is a tremendous help because I believe the ultimate goal of doing research is to make a better society.
I felt that many U.S. social science Ph.D. programs, including in political science, aim to train their Ph.D. students as researchers who can write papers, less as leaders who can contribute to our communities. But the diverse events at the Korea Program and APARC keep reminding me of the importance of both roles by giving me a balanced perspective.
Are there any individuals who you connected with during your time at APARC?
Since I came here, I met diverse faculty members and excellent students. But I want to share my interactions with Research Fellow Dr. Xinru Ma and Postdoctoral Fellow Dr. Junki Nakahara. Because we share an office, we always have opportunities to discuss our research ideas, different perspectives, and even daily lives. In particular, while I’m a comparative political scientist, Xinru is an international relations (IR) scholar and Junki is a communication scholar. Because we have different academic foundations, this collaborative environment is extremely helpful for me to sharpen my research ideas.
Can you describe the new SNAPL lab and share a bit about your experience?
SNAPL is led by Prof. Gi-Wook Shin, and its full name is ‘Stanford Next Asia Policy Lab.’ As you can see from the name, SNAPL has two main goals. First, we address emerging political, social, economic, and cultural challenges in Asia that can direct the ‘next’ Asia. Second, we also try to provide ‘policy’ solutions to those challenges to make the next Asia better. In other words, our ultimate goal is to upgrade Asia to the next level.
For those goals, we gather every week. Because Xinru, Junki, and I are leading different, but interconnected, projects at SNAPL, we share ongoing respective research at our weekly meetings with Prof. Shin as well as our two excellent research associates, Haley and Irene.
When we discuss together, we sometimes criticize each other and sometimes cannot reach a consensus. But eventually, our active debates lead us to come up with new ideas and find solutions together.
This weekly SNAPL meeting is my favorite time because I can share my research, get insightful feedback from Prof. Shin, learn from Xinru and Junki, and also get excellent support from both Haley Gordon and Irene Kyoung. I believe this is the best way of doing research, which is extremely rare in the social science field.
What is on the horizon for you? What's next?
First, as a junior scholar, I plan to focus on my research into nationalism and its political behavioral consequences. The projects I am leading at SNAPL focus on how the international relations context, such as the growing U.S.-China tensions and dynamics of alliance relationships, shapes global citizens’ attitudes toward neighboring countries and foreign policy. Because these projects are fundamentally related to national sentiments, by focusing on my SNAPL projects, I want to not only contribute to SNAPL as a postdoctoral fellow but also produce good research as an independent scholar.
Second, as my long-term goal, I want to further promote Korean studies in the United States. Despite the growing academic and public interest in Korea, many people still have a limited understanding of the country.
As a scholar, one way that I can think of to offer a better explanation of Korea is to actively produce scholarly works, such as books and papers, and more importantly, to share them through diverse networks. Thus, someday in the future, I want to lead an institute for Korean Studies and create diverse channels to share such works.