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The modern International Theatre State: North Korea's statehood, hereditary successions and its place in the international society
Linköping University, Department of Management and Engineering. Linköping University, Faculty of Arts and Sciences.
2013 (English)Independent thesis Advanced level (degree of Master (Two Years)), 10 credits / 15 HE creditsStudent thesis
Abstract [en]

This thesis proposes an extended version of the ”theatre state” concept, originally coined by Clifford Geertz, as an alternative analysis of contemporary North Korean statehood and political rule.

The DPRK is perhaps the only revolutionary, state-socialist entity to have survived the end of the Cold War with its original order intact, and to have undergone a hereditary succession of leadership twice, while withstanding remarkably adverse conditions. Today, Kim Jong-un is the third ruler in the Kim-dynasty, leaving the mode of charismatic rule and political imagery that characterise the North Korean regime largely unchanged. North Korea may therefore be the only state, apart from monarchies, to ever have achieved what Max Weber called the “routinization of charisma”.

It is argued in this thesis that this continuity of revolutionary polity and charismatic authority was enabled by a conscious choice of the political elite to turn the DPRK into a type of theatre state – a political state directed towards the performance of ritual and spectacle in order to execute power, rather than the pursuit of more concrete ends such as welfare (cf. Kwon, Chung 2012: 45). Thereby, the charismatic authority of North Korea’s glorified leader Kim Il-sung was de-personalized and turned into a hereditary institution, but without becoming traditional or bureaucratic. This “theatre” was achieved through the mobilization of history, the dramatization of events, and the strategic use of symbols and rites. Cultural productions, the interactions of the leaders with the people and foreign diplomats, the use of global media platforms and photographs of the DPRK are analysed here as the expressions of the North Korean theatre, as well as the basis for the interpretations the Western audience conceives of it.

Further, this thesis aims to show how such a theatre state functions as a discursive linchpin that influences regional distributions of power and contributes to the constitution of hegemonial structures. An international, interdependent perspective is hence added to the theatre state concept, in order to illustrate how “the spectacle” influences both the domestic society and the international “audience”.

In face of the recent events concerning North Korea’s aggressive rhetoric towards its neighbours and the USA, this thesis aims to promote an alternative view of state power as theatrical performance, and to provide an analysis of North Korea’s role in regional and global politics.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2013. , 70 p.
National Category
Economics and Business
URN: urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-95855ISRN: LIU-IEI-FIL-A--13/01543--SEOAI: diva2:638585
Subject / course
Master's Programme in International and European Relations
Available from: 2013-08-27 Created: 2013-07-30 Last updated: 2013-08-27Bibliographically approved

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