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ISSN : 2384-0668(Print)
ISSN : 2384-0692(Online)
S/N Korean Humanities Vol.1 No.2 pp.79-100

The History of the Present: Foundational Meta-Narratives in Contemporary North Korean Discourse*

Eric J. Ballbach**
Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Institute of Korean Studies, Freie Universität Berlin
April 30 2015 June 05 2015 July 15 2015.


This study addresses the phenomenon of foundational meta-narratives in North Korea’s discourses. Meta-narratives are understood here as a totalizing cultural narrative schema which orders and explains knowledge and experience. On the national level, meta-narratives refer to those over-arching, all-encompassing myths and stories that contain the historical knowledge of a country’s foundational history. This paper discusses three particularly important meta-narratives permeating North Korea’s contemporary political and cultural discourses: the meta-narrative of national ruin, of (Kim Il Sung’s) armed resistance and of constant threat of external aggression. Providing both positive and negative frames of reference, the study shows how these meta-narratives are strategically employed in contemporary discourses as ‘historical contextualizations’ in which particular interpretations of the past are used as arguments for political actions in the present, and, with recourse to history, produce a normative frame for evaluating contemporary events and actions. At the same time, the historical references and myths contained in those meta-narratives play an important role in establishing identity and fostering integration, for they level differences within the North Korean community and thus construct sameness and communality.