While Italy’s Sicilian Mafia, Hong Kong’s Triads, and Japan’s Yakuza may well be some of its best known examples, organized criminality is present in every country – and South Korea is no exception. Yet, while this is a popular topic for Korean movies, in practice the general public knows little about this criminal underworld – and even fewer can speak about it from personal experience. We were lucky to interview Jonson Porteux who spent a year doing research in the company of both gang members and law enforcement officials.
Jonson Porteux is Assistant Professor at Hosei University in Japan. In his dissertation he explored how the Korean state and criminal gangs interact, and how the former tolerates and even utilized the violence offered by the latter. We spoke about his personal experiences doing research in this context, the historical origins of the Korean government’s cooperation with criminal gangs, and the modus vivandi of these criminals.
Professor Porteux completed his B.A. at the University of California, Berkeley and earned his PhD in Political Science from the University of Michigan.
I think for the most part they have very strong incentives to constrain their violence. When they actually have to utilize their violence, something is going on: people are questionning them; they’re competing; or they’re questionning their power. They actually don’t want to have to use their violence so everything works well through the threat of violence. People are just afraid and they follow. But in terms of the amount of violence, it’s actually quite rare.
The interview was recorded on November 22nd in Seoul.