Technology, Commodity Chains and Global Inequality: South Korea in the 1990s

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Recent conceptualizations of international economic restructuring and 'global commodity chains’ offer an opportunity to rethink the role of technology in the world-system and its role in generating global inequality. This article attempts to untangle the complex relationship between technological innovation/application/transfer and differential patterns of socioeconomic growth and development. After reviewing key theoretical debates about the nature of global economic 'restructuring’, I discuss the recent experience of South Korea, where planners and policy makers are acutely aware of the need to develop indigenous science and technology capabilities. Drawing on secondary sources as well as interviews with government officials, academic experts and corporate engineers, I argue that even the seemingly 'hi-tech’ South Korean economy is characterized by technological dependence. The ultimate success of Korean efforts to promote 'industrial upgrading’, market directly to lucrative world markets, and join the ranks of the 'advanced’ economies continues to hinge on the ability of the South Korean state and corporations to break the oligopolistic control of technology held by core interests, who still reap a disproportionate share of global profits/surplus.