Book Talk: Between the Streets and the Assembly: Social Movements, Political Parties, and Democracy in Korea

Book Talk: Between the Streets and the Assembly: Social Movements, Political Parties, and Democracy in Korea

February 3, 2023

Event Description: 


This talk will be based on my book which asks how protest movements have become the prominent mode of democratic representation in South Korea, making Koreans so good at protesting in post-authoritarian decades (1987-2017), in contrast to political parties in the National Assembly that have lagged behind in partisan representation and accountability. By closely following three groups of democracy activists who pursued different methods of democratic representation, i.e. those who stayed in civil society and organized outside formal politics, those who chose to join existing parties with the aim of reforming legislative politics, and those who formed separate progressive parties to give voice to the hitherto-unrepresented, this book finds that social movement organizations were more effective than activist-turned politicians in centrist or progressive parties in creating coordination infrastructures for collective action. Through the practice of organizing national solidarity networks, innovating the methods of mass street demonstrations, and drawing professional expertise to formulate policy alternatives, Korean civic groups built the capacity to directly shape and alter the course of national politics, unlike their counterparts in many other democracies. This study asserts that social movement organizations and political parties develop variable capacities for democratic representation, not only depending on the politico-historical context but also in dynamic relation to each other.


Yoonkyung Lee is professor in the Department of Sociology and Korea Foundation Chair of Korean Studies at the University of Toronto. She is a political sociologist specializing in labor politics, social movements, democracy, and the political economy of neoliberalism with a regional focus on East Asia. She is the author of two books, Militants or Partisans: Labor Unions and Democratic Politics in Korea and Taiwan (Stanford University Press 2011) and Between the Streets and the Assembly: Social Movements, Political Parties, and Democracy in Korea (University of Hawaii Press 2022), in addition to numerous journal articles and book chapters on labor movements and contentious politics. Her recent publications include:

“Cold War Undercurrents: The Extreme Right Variants in East Asian Democracies,” Politics and Society 49-3 (2021): 403-430

“Neoliberal Methods of Labor Repression: Privatized Violence and Dispossessive Litigation in Korea,” Journal of Contemporary Asia 51-1 (2021): 20-37 [Journal of Contemporary Asia’s Best Article Prize in 2021]

“Labor Movements in Neoliberal Korea: Organizing Precarious Workers and Inventing New

Repertoires of Contention,” Korea Journal 61-4 (2021): 16-46


This talk is organized by Hae Yeon Choo (Sociology, University of Toronto) and Hyun Ok Park (Sociology, York University).

This in-person event is co-organized by the Centre for the Study of Korea (CSK) at the University of Toronto and the Korean Office for Research and Education (KORE) at York University, which is funded by the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS).


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