UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Setting the parameters for social movements : students, workers, and the South Korean development model Trimble, Sheena Tiami


This thesis attempts to explain social movements--why the occur and why they assume their specific characters--in terms of the way a society is structured. Using premises drawn from theoretical literature on late capitalism and contemporary social movements, one is directed to look for contradictions in sociopolitical structures for the source of conflict and social movements. When social groups experience these they may engage in collective action or protest movements. It is possible, however, that they may not be fully aware of these contradictions or strongly motivated by them. "Dominant" social groups may take steps to ensure that conflict does not emerge by masking disparities or by suppressing defiant groups. Where the state intervenes heavily in society and economy, as in late capitalist societies, unique contradictions are created which may inspire social conflict. However, the state is also in a unique position to "legitimate" its intervention and the existing sociopolitical configuration. The state will be most concerned with preventing movements that pose the greatest threat to the prevailing social structure. Social contradictions and the efforts of dominant groups and state to temper their impact produce a series of inducements and constraints to collective action. Although South Korea is not in the stage of late capitalism, parallels exist and it is possible to use this theoretical framework to explain the difference between the student and labour movements in that country. The features of the Korean model of development--an interventionist developmental state, an emphasis on economic development and neglect of social and political, nurturing of monopoly capital, popular exclusion from the policy-making process and fast-paced industrialization--produce a particular set of motivations and barriers to collective action. Because workers and students do not experience these in the same way, their respective social movements differ in shape and level of activity. Workers are essential to the development process and thus are subject to more constraints to protest activity in the form of developmental rhetoric and even outright repression. State and business expend greater efforts to ensure that they are 'incorporated' into the model. University students are particularly well-placed to see the contradictions of the model and are less inclined to accept state attempts to legitimize its character. Because students are not as essential to the development process, they are not faced with the same repressive measures. Nevertheless, their ability to influence the middle and working classes forces the state to respond to their protest. Students are not as regimented in their time and environment as industrial workers which affords them more space for protest activity. Middle class sympathy for their cause has also helped to shield them from the state's negative sanctions. As the Korean development model has undergone restructuring since the mid-1980s, the student and labour movements have adapted accordingly. Workers have grown in power, while political reform has undercut the students' protest platform. Yet many of the former structures remain in tact; they were remodelled just enough to accommodate growing pluralism in society. The future of these two movements remains in question as they await further reform or government retrenchment.

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