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Remembering Gwangju: Memory Work in the South Korean Democracy Movement, 1980–1987

Four Dead in Ohio

ISBN: 978-1-80071-808-1, eISBN: 978-1-80071-807-4

Publication date: 6 July 2021


Prodemocracy protest in South Korea in the 1980s can be described in terms of two waves of sustained activism between 1979 and 1987. One wave was brutally repressed in the Gwangju Uprising of May 1980, while the other succeeded in bringing in a transition to democracy in June 1987. How did activists recover from the repression in the first wave, and how did they create a viable movement in the second wave? This work focuses on the role of memory work about the Gwangju Uprising in the mobilization of the prodemocracy movement. Drawing on a wide assortment of documents collected from various archives in South Korea, the author demonstrates how memory work contributed to the movement dynamics. Cognitively, memory work radicalized movement participants such that they became completely disillusioned with the legitimacy of state power. Emotionally, memory work triggered a moral shock among recruits that motivated them to take the high risks associated with activism. Relationally, memory work provided a bonding experience for activists within a network. The findings also show a process through which memory work becomes a powerful social force: emergence of a challenger, proliferation of an alternative narrative, and then a full-blown contention between the state and a challenger. The process also means changes of the status of memory in terms of ownership, salience, and valence.



Park, S.S. (2021), "Remembering Gwangju: Memory Work in the South Korean Democracy Movement, 1980–1987", Solomon, J.A. (Ed.) Four Dead in Ohio (Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change, Vol. 45), Emerald Publishing Limited, Leeds, pp. 191-209.



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