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Cultural Exceptionalism during a global pandemic: Debunking three myths about South Korean ‘success’ during COVID-19

Activity: Talk or presentation typesInvited talk


COVID-19 has presented challenges across the globe that led to several shared lessons to be learned. Yet, we have been inundated with accounts that characterise national pandemic responses as inherent and unique to certain countries, which led to COVID-exceptionalism. This lecture challenges three myths of South Korea’s “successful” responses to the COVID-19 crisis, namely 1) altruistic face-covering culture, 2) cultural acceptance of contact-tracing, and 3) the role of life-saving technologies. By debunking these myths, this lecture then discusses what might have been the disadvantages of the cultural exceptionalism rhetoric in public health policy. COVID-exceptionalism may have not only reinforced existing “(East) Asian” and “Western” stereotypes, but also caused other problems such as implicitly granting political impunity to those responsible for coordinating COVID-19 responses.

External organisation (Research grants)

NameGoethe-University Frankfurt