My dissertation investigates the trajectory of water resource development programs in Korea from the post-Korean War (1950-53) era to the late twentieth century. While exploring the course of national water management projects, I focus on analyzing technological dreams embedded in river basin planning and its implementation in the context of the postcolonial and postwar reconstruction of the nation. The Korean government aspired to build a modernized nation, and an access to an abundance of water was one key to realizing it. President Par Chunghee (1917-1979), who seized control of the Korean government by a military coup d’etat in 1961, was especially interested in transforming the messy reality of river systems into manageable national resources, which required a new form of expertise to construct and operate technologies designed to simplify, quantify, and standardize the rivers.
Expanding on aforementioned studies, I trace how different experts, including engineers, hydrologists, geologists and economists engaged in projects which turned rivers into numerical schemes, how they imagined different visions of a sociopolitical order, how those visions were deployed in the practices of water development, how their expertise was created along with the implementation of national construction projects; and how the central government controlled the riparian system from a distance while legitimizing locals’ suffering for the cause of national economic development. Ultimately, my research investigates how classification of lands and rivers, quantification of river water, and standardization of water measurement practices all worked together to implement national projects of making natural rivers as national resources and what social imaginaries, norms and values were embodied in those practices.