HackYourPhD in Korea : Open, culture and 기분 (Gibun)

The two co-founders of HackYourPhD spent some time in Korea this summer. Guillaume was making a three-month visit to the Institut Pasteur Korea (IPK), and Célya took the opportunity to experience again “Laboratory Life”, while reading a book with the same name [1]. This trip was a source of reflections on cultural differences and how they shape our modes of thought and action. How is it reflected in our field of interest: open science?

The recognition of cultural relativity carries with it its own values . . . It challenges customary opinions and causes those who have been bred to them acute discomfort. . . . As soon as the new opinion is embraced as customary belief, it will be another trusted bulwark of the good life. We shall arrive then at a more realistic social faith, accepting as grounds of hope and as new bases for tolerance the coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence. Benedict, Ruth. 1934. Patterns of culture.[2]

This trip was an opportunity to immerse ourself in Korean culture and discover the people involved in citizen initiatives in the fields of art, science, education, and technology. Those meetings helped to understand how different cultures provide “atmosphere” to a particular concept, a phenomenon or an ongoing process. Here, the very meaning of openness in science and its practice has been questioned.

« Gibun » and interactional glitches

To illustrate this, let’s begin with a discussion we had with Stella Hayoung Shin. Stella is a member of Creative Commons Korea and is particularly active in Open Education projects. We had the chance to spend a pleasant evening with this active young woman who has just finished her PhD in Educational Sciences (Clap! Clap!). At the beginning of our discussions, Stella mentioned a book excerpt that I had shared on the networks a few days earlier on the Korean concept of Gibun. This 기분 term is difficult to translate into English but the closest meaning would be “mood”.



After a few days in Korea, I had indeed shared my first feelings on this new country and expressed my surprise about the discrepancy between my actions and those of people around me. The interaction was not happening smoothly with others, something felt encrypted…. Wishing to understand, I made my search about Korean cultural characteristics, and that is this very notion of Gibun that helped me put words on this relational “glitch” or “bug” felt initially [2].

As Stella explained to us, this term may be defined as the “atmosphere of a person” and relates to the field of interpersonal relationships. The Koreans can decode the Gibun of a person, that is to say micro-signs, We, “Westerners”, does not necessarily perceive. They know how to manage the Gibun of others to not offend them. My inability to decode those signs gave me the impression during the stay to be a barbarian, always afraid to hurt or misbehave.

Extrait de CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette Par Sonja Vegdahl & Ben Seunghwa Hur posté sur les réseaux sociaux au début du séjour.

Extrait de CultureShock! Korea: A Survival Guide to Customs and Etiquette Par Sonja Vegdahl & Ben Seunghwa Hur posté sur les réseaux sociaux au début du séjour.

Korean Open and impregnation

It was these cultural characteristics that constituted one of the central thread we discussed with Stella about the Open Science and Education. Those very same issues gathered us the first time we meet a few months ago in Brussels, when we were both participating at the conference OpenCon 2015.

How today cultures influence the meaning given to the terms “opening” or “openness”? In science, how social norms and cultural implicit rules do influence research practices?

I have shared my questions about the weight of hierarchical relationships in research. In Korea more than in France, a frontal attack to your superior is unthinkable. Stella also confirmed that :  before the end of the thesis, it is very difficult for a young researcher to issue an opinion and a critical assessment of the research system. The few people working for example on open access were already established Professors. Do those academic relationships impact the production of scientific facts? One may ask if an experiment which is not working as originally planned (which is mostly the case in biology) would be more likely to be hidden. In a similar way, would the inability to directly admit a mistake can lower research rigor? It would be interesting to dig the litterature about scientific fraud.

Stella, meanwhile, as a young doctor in science education and a member of Creative Commons Korea was able to take a reflective view on the modalities of implementation of openness in Korea. She particularly pointed to the importance of the State in these new directions. Here every activist movement starts with a political or governmental impulse, a surprising way for us to consider such initiatives (usually more associated to bottom-up in France). Stella also explained how special was the relationship to intellectual property in Korea. The property, despite being sacred here, does not prevent a large amount of copyright infringements. They are regulated by the State when the pressure of the cultural industries becomes too strong. This is a very different situation, according to Stella, compared to the United States, where these industries are directly regulating those violations with the individuals thanks to their army of lawyers. For example, we can remind the trial started by Lawrence Lessig and colleagues against Walt Disney, which is often cited as the trigger for the reflexions about Creative Commons licenses.

We saw by ourselves how deep is the anchoring of intellectual property when I gave a presentation with Guillaume about HackYourPhD and Open Science. Indeed, the fact that we challenged the dominant model through open initiatives, has raised many questions.


The influence of other concepts: shanzhai culture and open

We presented the HackYourPhD community and addressed the issue of the Open Science through Art and Science interactions. The evening was organized by the artist Binna Choi, member of the Unmake Lab, a community of artists, makers, and activists. (Thanks to Emmanuel for put us in contact!).



After the initial presentations, questions, collected before the events, focused on the economic and legal issues. Skepticism about the open model was palpable. To understand this, it is interesting to look at the negative connotations that the concept of open carry today. Open source is specifically associated in Korea to the Shanzhai culture, that is to say the culture of imitation and counterfeiting in China. This makes impregnation and understanding of open delicate beyond the simple notion of gratuity and theft, especially for the audience of artists who were present that night (which are already struggling to have their work recognized and paid). The slides of our presentation are available here for the curious.

In conclusion,t his is important to clarify that all ideas presented above are only personal observations during a very short time (only three weeks), it is important to take them with a grain of salt, and consider them as invitations to widen and dig further the research.


This is what makes the OCSDNet network in the context of South Countries. The Open and Collaborative Science in Development Network consists of twelve teams of practitioners and researchers of the South interested in the role of openness and cooperation in science as a tool for transformation of thought and practice development. Cultural issues coarsly raised here inevitably arise in this network and their research areas. I invite you to take a look at what they do. To me, the explicitation of the cultural influence on open is essential to allow this network to conduct joint work for the sake of others, their frame of thought and action, in brief, to follow the principles set by Ruth Benedict at the beginning of this article.

We shall arrive then at a more realistic social faith, accepting as grounds of hope and as new bases for tolerance the coexisting and equally valid patterns of life which mankind has created for itself from the raw materials of existence. Benedict, Ruth. 1934. Patterns of culture

Additional ressource : Stella gave me the link of her presentation at OpenCon2015 “Share or Die : How Korea is Open now”  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4faqh9-dgUg

This article was written by Célya Gruson-Daniel in French. Thanks Guillaume Dumas for proofread and translation in english

[1] Laboratory Life is a book written by Bruno Latour and Steve Wooglar published in 1979. It tells the immersion of Bruno Latour for two years in a Neuroendocrinology laboratory in California. This is an introduction to the scenes of the world of research with scientists working but also all the machines involved in the production of scientific facts.

[2] After a while, these feeling faded. Adapting to a new culture is accompanied by the standardization of these differences. The “etic” then becomes “emic”, hence the importance of logbooks to remember those initial feelings.


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