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Korean Publishers



Going Forward with Belief in Change




All individuals live in a society - the link between an individual and a community cannot be broken. Issues and relations formed among people and society cause problems and conflicts. Some cases are minor discords among individuals but sometimes become a huge problem for the community. Humanitas is a publisher that pays attention and listens to small and big societal issues that people face. Humanitas takes steps along with individuals and members of society and turns small movements into changes. Today, we met Humanitas, which has continuously explored diverse situations in Korea from a social science perspective.



Humanitas’ Logo



It’s an honor to have you here on K-Book Trends. Please introduce Humanitas, its mission, and the meaning of the company’s name to our overseas readers.


Humanitas is a contrast to theology, the study of god. The word derives from a Latin word that became the origin of humanities, the study of humans. Seniors and juniors, who majored in politics at a graduate school, gathered and started the company in 2002. At that time, we pondered upon what name we should choose for our publishing company for a long time. Politics, in a broader sense, is a social science and humanities in a more general sense. All three areas are about issues and relations among people. So, we all decided on the company’s alternative name, Humanitas. Humanitas was not a commonly used term. Very few understood the word at once. But now, the company name Humanitas sounds familiar to many.


The slogan, “We publish books on critical social issues,” written in your introduction, is quite impressive. What kind of books of yours are on critical social issues?


A social issue reflects how much one cares about a different individual and society. Unless isolated in the middle of space, one naturally lives in a small or big community. Within the community, one is born, hurt, consoled, in love, broken up, and dead in the end. Books on critical social issues look at problems in society and help readers view matters in a social context.



Books walk alongside society and individuals as partners.



Your message must be clear, as your motto is releasing books on critical social issues. How do you want society to change through Humanitas’ books?


As human history and individuals’ lives show, change is like Sisyphus’ Roll of the Stone. They both take a step forward and move two steps back. We are living somewhere in a long and slow process. Having faith in change itself can be our target. We believe that books do not change the world by themselves. Instead, they walk along with society and individuals that push the stone forward. Humanitas hopes to make the community a safer, more peaceful, and freer place to live for more individuals.





Democracy, Democratization, Parasite, Our Old Companion, and 1980 Democracy in the Popular Uprising



The current society’s border is becoming vague and wider nationally and globally. Humanitas publish many books that readers overseas can agree with. Please introduce Humanitas’ books that you would like to introduce to readers in other countries.


I think Korea’s experience with democratization can be enjoyable to readers overseas. Professor Choi Jang-Jip’s Democracy, Democratization tries to make a systematic analysis of Korean society after democratization, shows the historical and structural origin of Korean democracy, and views from a microscopic point of view.
Jeong Jun-Ho’s Parasite, Our Old Companion, is one of the Humanitas science series, which talks about themes where human, nature, and science meet. It is an attractive book about human history with parasites that take humans as hosts.
Kim Jeong-Han’s 1980 Democracy in the Popular Uprising talks about the 5.18 Gwangju Democratization Movement, one of the most critical events in the history of Korea’s democratization. One scholar recommended the book, saying, “The book made me realize the importance and beauty of social science. Such research fits the methodology and critical thinking of social humanities, a recent direction of the area as a combination of humanities and social science. Moreover, a study that looks at both present and reality is public and practical.”


It must be challenging to run a publishing company for a long time by releasing books in only one area. So what’s the secret behind Humanitas’s success in solidifying its position in the social science area?


Social science is the area company members are interested in and know the best. In addition, most of the editors have worked in Humanitas for a long time, getting to have expertise of their own in their interest area. As a result, editors also became an intellectual of that particular segment.



A Salt-flowered Tree



You might have met many forms of life as you release books reflecting society. Of all the books, which one is the most memorable? Please share a story on it.


Meeting with the writer or translator opens the door to a new horizon of recognition. It is more so when their lives symbolize critical issues in Korean society. For example, A Salt-flowered Tree’s author Kim Jin-Sook started working as a welder at the age of 21 in 1981 at Hanjin Shipbuilding & Construction, was fired in 1986 for joining a labor movement while she was in her 20s and was reinstated in 2022 at age 60 after 37 years. As a labor activist, her writings and speeches moved many people’s hearts, and some even say that one cannot help but cry when listening to her tribute speech.
Her writings and speeches reflected details of life, like a small hope of a father who wanted to buy a pair of trendy shoes for his child or eat dinner with his family. Humanitas collected her words and pieces and published a book titled A Salt-flowered Tree. ‘A salt-flowered tree’ represents white salt flowers blooming on the back of laborers’ clothes from sweat. Since Kim Jin-Sook was too poor to study, she even read the letters on the newspapers covering a fish-shaped bun. Despite her background, her accurate writings were beautiful and higher in quality than ones written by doctors or professors, surprising editors. The experience of weaving stories of salt flowers blooming in her life and listening to labor activist Kim Jin-Sook being called the Writer of A Salt-Flowered Tree Kim Jin-Sook made us feel like standing at the starting line of bookmaking again.


You’ve been talking about many social issues in your books. For example, much lamentable news has recently been about labor workers in Korea. What’s one specific social issue Humanitas is focusing on? Also, what kind of social issues will your company cover in 2023?


Labor issues are critical in our lives regardless of political views or positions. They are also something Humanitas continues to pay attention to. We focus on industrial accidents, unstable labor, occupational health, and recently published books on shipyard industrial accidents, teen labor, and platform labor (especially delivery service).
Poverty, inequality, democracy, and politics are regular topics that Humanitas deal with. In 2023, Humanitas will start a series called “My Story,” covering an individual’s narrative representing a part of our society. Stories are like those of a human rights activist for the severely disabled who poured all his life into securing rights of movement for people with disabilities, a street vendor’s experience as a street vendor rights activist, and a railway engineer’s stories on the railroad. Through the series, we aim to show stories gathered to form a mosaic and our society’s shapes.



Humanitas hopes to make the community a safer, more peaceful, and freer place to live for more individuals.



Please introduce popular books that best show the color of Humanitas.


Jeong Hae-Yun’s His Sorrow and Joy is a reportage that recorded 5-year-long stories of fired workers who were part of SsangYong Motor’s lay-off and strike, victims to one of Korea’s most tragic events caused by cutbacks. The book is a speculative labor reportage written sincerely “after listening for a long time until the sorrow and despair are turned to lights,” and shows what work means to people and the process of one living a life for someone else.
Park Sang-Hoon’s Manufactured Reality is a book that breaks bias on regionalism, which has been believed to be a severe and chronic issue of Korean politics and one with a long history. The book shows that most regionalism was created and used to emphasize certain ideologies, not showing reality as it is.
Huh Huan-Joo’s Eighteen Years Old, Going to Work: The Story of a Field Trainee, is a book on complex issues, including Korea’s elitism, unstable work conditions, platform labor, and industrial accidents, shown through stories of vocational high school students. While the college entrance rate in Korea exceeds 70%, the book shows what it means to join the labor market as a high school graduate.





His Sorrow and Joy, Manufactured Reality, and Eighteen Years Old, Going to Work: The Story of a Field Trainee



We cheer for Humanitas, which spreads diverse voices of people to the world. Lastly, please tell us about Humanitas’ plans or goals.


As long as humans form society and community exists, there are perennial topics, such as labor, politics and democracy, poverty, and inequality. Though details, forms, and subjects may evolve with societal changes, Humanitas will continue to follow and pay attention to important topics.




#Humanitas#Social Science#Labor Issues#A Salt-flowered Tree
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