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From socialism to consumerism: The rise of capitalist values in North Korea

ABSTRACT

Ever since the famine of the 1990s, socialist North Korea has experienced a dramatic rise in black and grey markets as people seek a way out of the crisis. While previous studies have focused on the “old generation” of North Koreans engaging in the markets as producers and traders catering to the emerging subsistence economy, the “new generation” remains largely understudied. This “new generation” of North Koreans, who have spent their formative teenage years in post-famine North Korea, have experienced the markets as a commonplace, and hence had developed a sense for consumerism earlier than their parents’ generation did. Drawing on oral history interviews with five female refugees raised in different regions in North Korea during their formative years, this study found that the “new generation” of North Koreans has become more capitalist than their counterparts in market-oriented South Korea or even those in the United States, North Korea’s archenemy. Some implications of this shift in values are discussed at the end of this research.

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