Despite a plethora of studies on the authoritarian regime, scholars have paid less attention to how an authoritarian regime not only maintains but also legitimizes its power. Contra both political economists emphasizing the regime’s economic performance and social constructionists focusing on the “economy of power,” this study illuminates a constitutive dimension of the authoritarian rule in which citizens are morally reformed, civil society is fundamentally reconstituted, and nation is newly imagined by investigating South Korea’s Yushin regime (1972–1979) under Park Chung-hee’s leadership. By examining how bansanghoe, a monthly neighborhood meeting, buttressed the Yushin regime, this study analyzes and problematizes a complex process in which the extraordinary came to define the ordinariness, further blurring the line between the two. This paper concludes by exploring the possibility of the democratic transformation of bansanghoe, from its authoritarian legacy into a Tocquevillian grassroots organization in postdemocratic Korea.
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