Griffith Asia Institute Research Seminar: Candlelight Protests and Korean Democracy

Griffith Asia Institute Research Seminar: Candlelight Protests and Korean Democracy
Griffith Asia Institute Research Seminar: Candlelight Protests and Korean Democracy

Principal speaker

Professor Seongyi Yun (Kyung Hee University)

Other speakers

Ms Hee Min (Kyung Hee University), Professor LEW Seok-Jin and Ms CHO Hee-Jung (Sogang University).


Candlelight Protests and Korean Democracy consists of two papers.

Paper one: "Does SNS facilitate Participatory Democracy? : Evidence from S. Korea's Presidential Impeachment Protests" presented by Professor Seongyi Yun & Ms Hee Min (Kyung Hee University).

Paper two: "Network Movement and Democracy: with a focus on 2016-17 Candle Demonstration in Korea" presented by Professor LEW Seok-Jin & Ms CHO Hee-Jung (Sogang University).

1. Does SNS facilitate Participatory Democracy? : Evidence from S. Korea's Presidential Impeachment Protests

Does SNS facilitate participatory democracy? Due to the proliferation of digital networks, citizen participation has become more frequent, and the size of mobilization, duration, and political influence has also sharply increased compared to past industrial societies. Nonetheless, there is a clear limit to the power of contentious politics, and it does not make a significant contribution to the emergence of new political players or even to the qualitative development of democracy.

The spread of SNS politics has strengthened citizen power as a counter power, but citizens still have limitations in exercising authority as a member of governing power. Citizens connected to the Internet and social networks can be a powerful challenge to elite-centered democracy, but whether they participate directly in the process of governance is still possible through the judgment and choice of political elites. In other words, the proliferation of the SNS politics itself does not turn the representative democracy into a participatory democracy. This means that even if the counter-resistance power is strengthened, it cannot be transformed into the governing power. Especially, the SNS characteristics of connectivity and spread strengthens the counter-power of citizens, but it does not help participation as a governing power.

This is related to the nature of the SNS as a weak tie. Digital networks are very useful for easily finding, connecting, and mobilizing individuals who are sympathetic to a particular issue. Party or interest group is formed based on actual social crack structure such as ideology or economic interest. However, the SNS network does not have enough homogeneity or coherence to represent social cleavages in everyday politics, although it shares ideas about specific issues. Therefore, the SNS network can have a strong power as a counter power, but there is a clear limit to become a governing institution responsible for everyday politics.

We will use the concept of "a ladder of participation' and social movement theories to analyze the strengths weakness of the digitally connective movements in the 2016/17 Presidential impeachment candlelight protests.

Based on the concept of a ladder of participation, SNS helps reach the second stage of participation, that is, "degrees of tokenism' (informing, consultation, placation), but there are many limitations to reach the third stage of "degrees of citizen power (partnership, delegated power, citizen control). The strengths and weaknesses of SNS political participation can be explained differently according to the perspectives of social movement theory such as resource movement theory, frame/collective identity theory, and political opportunity structure.

Seongyi Yun is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Politics and Economics at Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea. He received his Ph.D. in the Department of Political Science at The Ohio State University in U.S.A. He serves vice president of the Korean Political Science Association. His research interests include Korean Politics, Online Politics and Political Participation.

Hee Min is Research Fellow in the Department of Political Science at Kyung Hee University, Seoul, Korea. She received her Ph.D. in the Department of Political Science at Kyung Hee University. She has research interests in Political Communication and Korean Politics.

2. Network Movement and Democracy: with a focus on 2016-17 Candle Demonstration in Korea

This paper tries to do a comparative study of 2016 candlelight demonstration asking for the resignation/impeachment of President Park Geun-hye with the three previous candlelight demonstration cases: memorial service for the victims (two middle school girl students: Hyosun and Misun) of US military armored vehicle incidents in 2002; the anti-impeachment of President Roh Moo-hyun in 2004, the anti-US beef imports in 2008.

All the four cases share some similarities. First, internet-based communication has played very important functions. Second, duration period of the demonstration and the number of the participants reached record high level at each time. Third, each achieved the objective of the demonstration: 2002, apology by the US President; 2004, decision to reject the impeachment by the Constitutional Court; 2008, temporary stoppage of US beef imports; 2016, the impeachment of the President.

2016 case is important not just because the sheer number of the cumulative participants (reaching more than 15 millions), but because of the new way how the internet-based network functions. From the network movement studies, topics for the analysis are agenda setting, informing, voting, organizing, and institutionalization. This study tries to assess what topics can be expanded from what media in order to change real politics. Compared to the previous three cases, the scale and intensity of IT utilization in the 2016 candlelight has greatly changed, and IT has contributed to the development of democracy because of the increased political utilization of IT which can lead to the institutional change.

LEW Seok-Jin is Professor in the Department of Political Science at Sogang University, Seoul, Korea. He received his Ph.D. in the Department of Political Science at Yale University in U.S.A. His research interests include Political Economy, International Political Economy, IT and Politics.

CHO Hee-Jung is Senior Researcher in the Institute of Social Science at Sogang University, Seoul, Korea. She received her Ph.D. in the Department of Political Science at Sogang University. She has research interests in Comparative Politics, IT and Democracy.


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