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The political ecology of famine in North Korea: Amartya Sen revised

Professor Meredith Woo-Cumings, University of Michigan, will give a public lecture at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) on Wednesday 25 May. She will explore the North Korean famine in relation to Professor Amartya Sen's theories.

The catastrophic famine in North Korea (1995-98) seems, on the face of it, the perfect illustration of the thesis advanced by Amartya Sen: a totalitarian state, utterly bereft of political opposition and freedom of information, made the prevention of famine impossible - but is it?

Professor Woo-Cumings will discuss the complex ecology of famine that followed the collapse of industrial and energy regimes in North Korea and accentuate its anomaly in light of other famines that beset the world in the last two centuries. She will also examine the unexpected social consequences of famine in socialist countries, in the case of North Korea, leading to economic transitions-by-default.

The insights from the North Korean catastrophe point to the need to anchor the general understanding of famine and poverty in the larger developmental context, and less exclusively on famine prevention and disaster relief.

Meredith Woo-Cumings is professor of political science at the University of Michigan, USA. She has written extensively on the politics of economic development, as well as East Asian politics. Among her books are Race to the Swift: state, finance and industrialization of Korea (published under the name Jung-en Woo), Ungoverning Capital and Past as Prelude (with Michael Loriaux).

Howard Davies, director of LSE, chairs this event, which is a Sir Patrick Gillam Public Lecture.

The Political Ecology of Famine in North Korea: Amartya Sen revised is on Wednesday 25 May at 6.30pm in the Old Theatre, Old Building, LSE, Houghton Street, London WC2A. 

This event is free and open to all but a ticket is required.


  • Members of the press: To request a press ticket, please contact Jessica Winterstein, LSE Press Office, on 020 7955 7060 or email j.Winterstein@lse.ac.uk 


Amartya Sen received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1998 for his contributions to welfare economics. His work restored an ethical dimension to economics. He was professor of economics at LSE from 1971 to 1977, and he continued to teach part-time at the School from 1978 to 1982.

His work produced a new understanding of the catastrophes that plague society's poorest people and helps to explain the economic mechanisms underlying famines and poverty. He is best known for his book Poverty and Famine: an essay on entitlement and deprivation.

16 May 2005