S-Space 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)
‘The Candle-lit Demonstration’ as a Social Drama: The Dynamics of Civil Disobedience in Korea
- Joe, Il Dong
- Issue Date
- Korean Social Sciences Review(KSSR), Vol.2 No.1, pp. 95-130
- ‘the candle-lit demonstration’; social drama; civil society; solidarity; the safety issue of U.S. beef imports; public benefit; science discourse; humor; Korea
- 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
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.