‘The Candle-lit Demonstration’ as a Social Drama: The Dynamics of Civil Disobedience in Korea

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Joe, Il Dong
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Center for Social Sciences, Seoul National University
Korean Social Sciences Review(KSSR), Vol.2 No.1, pp. 95-130
‘the candle-lit demonstration’social dramacivil societysolidaritythe safety issue of U.S. beef importspublic benefitscience discoursehumorKorea
Translated From the published article in the Korean Cultural Anthropology 42(1):

179-220, 2009 with permission from Korean Society for Cultural Anthropology.
This paper is an analysis of the candlelight demonstrations of 2008 in South Korea as a ‘social

drama’. The demonstration participants each have different, individual reasons for joining

the cause, yet those reasons can all be attributed to the unrestrained competition imposed by

a capitalist society. The South Korean government’s decision to import American beef became

an event through which the participants expressed their discontent. Prior to participating

in these demonstrations, many people did not feel the need for solidarity with others to any

great extent. However, with new boundaries forming between people and societal discord

simultaneously resulting from greatly increased pressure, people became concerned with the

meaning and possibility of solidarity.

The collapse of these borders started with questions about in the state of science,

heretofore assumed to be precise and neutral. This is because scientific reasoning was the

foundation for the government’s argument that the importation of American beef was for

the public good. In the many debates surrounding the issue of the importation of American

beef, both sides used scientific figures to prove their cases. In order words, this demonstration

case illustrates how scientific arguments can be analyzed, interpreted, and provided different

arguments by individuals whose political ideologies are different.

As the demonstrations grew, the police began to use a violent measure to suppression

them. Confronting the violence, people ridiculed the authority with wit and humor. This

was made possible by the mutual sympathy and like-mindedness of the participants, who in

‘separation between street and side-walk’ determined by established society, crossed various

social, gender, and age-related boundaries together. In reality though, the forces tying the

protestors were always in flux. In a few situations, the line between the conservative and the

progressive became unclear, and that between violence and non-violence also changed. At

that stage, a rough internal order was created. The birth of that order represented a return to

the usual unity.

New possibilities emerged as these people, who while opposing to the government, crossed

barriers together, began to return to ‘normalcy’ through their own individual capacities.

The people realized that the authority they had trusted, and which in the past had protected

them in the public arena was by no means a guaranteed thing. Also understanding that

they themselves could be victims of this power regime, the peoples’ response manifested itself

within their neighborhoods in a variety of different forms. Efforts to return to normal, and

routine daily life were started, as well as those to foster new regional solidarity and new

consumer rights movements. A ‘conscious momentum’ was formed whereby politicians

seeking solidarity among neighbor citizens saw an ideal in how large-scale politics utilized

mass media.

The final results of the social drama are not important. What is matter is the process by

which individuals, through the experiences of the collective actions, realize their individual

identity and meaning of life. Therefore, the experience of participating in the 2008 candlelight

demonstrations, which had no organized leadership, set the groundwork for calling into

question the division between everyday life and politics in Korean society.
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College of Social Sciences (사회과학대학)Center for Social Sciences (사회과학연구원)Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR)Korean Social Sciences Review (KSSR) Vol.02, No.01/02 (2012)
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