From a colonial institution to a neoliberal real estate developer: comparative analysis of universities in the urban process in East Asia


This thesis investigates the question of how East Asian universities have engaged in urban processes as spatially grounded variegated social processes from the colonial era to recent decades by adopting a comparative urbanism approach. Historically, universities in the US and Europe have been influential urbanisation actors in their hosting cities, having occupied a substantial amount of land. The relationship between a university and its hosting city was often defined as ‘Town and Gown’; that implies an adversarial link, but this traditional relationship has changed. Universities in East Asia have also participated in urbanisation processes in diverse ways since their birth, but the dynamics behind this multi-faceted process has rarely been addressed. Using research data collected mainly from fieldwork in Singapore and South Korea, including 42 interviews and archival records, this thesis highlights the relationship between universities and cities in East Asia, focusing on three distinctive periods: the colonial, developmental, and postdevelopmental eras. In all these enquiries, land ownership by universities acts as a thread that weaves the diverse facets of the role of universities into different periods. The findings of this thesis can be summarised as follows: Firstly, colonialism has been influential in the university-urbanisation relationship. During the colonial era, the East Asian university emerged as a symbolic and political institution in the city. Various colonial and local actors surrounded the colonial universities to promote or fight against the ideology of imperialism, which demonstrates the diverse aspects of colonialism in cities of East Asia. Such legacies of colonialism are still found today. Secondly, the East Asian developmental state is a variegated concept. The university plays an important role in society, but the way in which the university engages with the developmental state has varied across geographies. The developmental state attempted to utilise universities to support rapid economic and urban development, but such efforts were not always successful. This finding challenges the conventional understanding that assumes a homogeneous conceptualisation of the East Asian developmental state. Lastly, the entrepreneurial character of East Asian universities has become increasingly evident while the presence of the state is still visible. Thus the role of East Asian universities in urban processes has also become more diverse and dynamic in the postdevelopmental state since the 1990s. While the entrepreneurial university has a long history in East Asia, the globalised and financialised interests are penetrating the university more actively through various urban development projects. This thesis concludes that there is an emerging need to recognise East Asian universities as land-based institutions playing an influential role in diverse and uneven urban processes. Investigating universities also provides an opportunity to identify linkages between their colonial legacies and contemporary urban processes in East Asia

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