The inception and development of the Social Sciences cannot be taken out of the context of European – and later also American – colonialism. This field of knowledge, with its assumptions, representations, concepts and analyses, has proceeded hand-in-hand with the consolidation of the capitalist world system. The latter has been marked by a separation between its core and the vast post-colonial areas of the globe. In the early 20th century, Max Weber, one of the founding fathers of Sociology, devoted a great amount of his extensive work to comparative research between different societies and historical periods, aiming at explaining the so-called uniqueness of the West. In general, his results point to cultural and economic deficiencies and absences of the non-Western world vis-à-vis the West. In this paper, I explore Weber’s concept of patrimonialism and its usages to analyze South Korea. In addressing the latter along with more recent critiques, the paper argues that representations of South Korean society as patrimonial are ultimately hostages of euro-centered representations about the ‘rest’ of the world, that they operate on the basis of problematic historical premises, and that they obscure rather than help to explain the distinct contemporary configurations of capitalism and their specific forms of social domination in South Korea.
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