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  • P-ISSN0023-3900
  • E-ISSN2733-9343

Articulating Inequality in the Candlelight Protests of 2016–2017

Korea Journal, (P)0023-3900; (E)2733-9343
2019, v.59 no.1, pp.16-45
https://doi.org/10.25024/kj.2019.59.1.16
(University of Toronto)
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Abstract

This study examines the eruption and growth of the candlelight rallies that resulted in such a dramatic but peaceful regime change in South Korea during 2016–2017 by focusing on the construction of a political reform agenda. While the rigged and dysfunctional administration led by President Park Geun-hye was undeniably the immediate cause of the massive uprising, this paper suggests that there were two underlying processes that transformed citizen reaction to the eccentric corruption scandal into a broad and fundamental critique of Korean society. Before the eruption of the popular protest, civil society has been actively problematizing the soaring inequalities and a democratic reversal taking place during the reigns of successive conservative governments. Following the ignition of the candlelight rallies, the protests turned into a political arena where diverse imaginings about to-be-restored-democracy were articulated and where addressing socioeconomic inequalities was part of the political reform agenda. Informed by a social movement approach that highlights the interactive process of meaning-construction by movement actors, this paper maintains that it is crucial to uncover the processes through which civil society and political elites articulate issues of inequality to turn them into a central public discourse and a democratic agenda.

keywords
candlelight protest inequality political articulation framing civil society movement infrastructure presidential impeachment economic democratization jeokpye inequality and protest participation chaebol

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