After the formal end of military rule in the late 1980s, a new type of voluntary association commonly called “citizens' organizations” emerged in Korean civil society. Pursuing progressive social change through legal and policy reforms, citizens' organizations became the voice of revived civil society in urban Korea and enjoyed public trust until the mid-2000s, when their influence began to wane. Using in-depth interviews and fieldwork data on the People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), one of the most influential citizens' organizations, this paper examines how the specific social meanings of civil society informed the roles that the state and the market played in the rise and relative decline of the PSPD and how class and gender affected individual access to it. This focus on the interplay among culture, the state, and the market enables us to move beyond cultural relativism and liberal universalism concerning the theoretical and empirical debate on civil society.

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