Same Despair but Different Hope: Youth Activism in East Asia and Contentious Politics *

By Joo, Yunjeong | Development and Society, September 2018 | Go to article overview

Same Despair but Different Hope: Youth Activism in East Asia and Contentious Politics *


Joo, Yunjeong, Development and Society


Youth in East Asia and the Rise of Activism

This study attempts a comparative analysis of the social movements of young people in East Asia. Since the 2000s, young people in East Asia have been coined as the "Three Give-up Generation" (South Korea), "Bomb Generation" (Taiwan), and "Loss Generation" (Japan), suggesting that they are in despair and lacking visions and hope for their future.

"In all three cases, economic factors including youth unemployment, job insecurity, wages, and social inequality are critical motivators driving the younger generation's political actions. In a region with the fastest-aging population and the lowest birth rates in the world, it is possible that young people will increasingly find themselves at the bottom of an upside-down pyramid, holding up or held down by the size and weight of the older generations. Most likely, generational politics will become a sharper and more potent force in northeast Asia."1

In a sense, the activism of youth groups in Northeast Asia was somewhat inevitable. Since the beginning of 2010, various social movements have developed and become mobilized in East Asian countries. The youths have been expressing their opinions on multiple issues in the form of organized action, such as the Anti-Constitutional Movement (Japan), the Sunflower Movement against China in the case of Taiwan, and the candlelight demonstrations and feminist protests in Korea, which are not necessarily related to economic issues. The activism of the young people in East Asia take diverse directions that reflect each society's contexts and situations, and such differences have given birth to a variety of multifaceted issues and agendas that concern the future visions of youths.

In this paper, based on a comparative research on the youth activism in three different East Asian countries, I argue that the young people in East Asia have developed their own ways to engage in and contend with national politics that reflect their contexts and conditions. Moreover, I counter the 'youth deficit'2 model, which regards youths as being incapable of changing their own situation and social conditions and suggest that, despite many differences in youth politics, there arises the political aspirations and contentions of youth groups to reflect their contexts and conditions in East Asia in diverse forms and contents. For them, political contention is a way of expressing their anger and despair about their current situation as well as their hope for the future.

In particular, based on Tilly's contention theory, this paper assumes that the method of contention is defined by the limitations of historical conditions, so that movements that occur during the same period have a similar repertoire of contention (Tilly 2008). In line with this view, I compare the frames of activisms (contents) and repertoires of contentions (forms) of the youth activism in East Asia to investigate their similarities and differences. This analysis will deepen our understanding of the young people in East Asia by examining whether the young people of East Asia constitute a coherent framework or repertoire in their mobilization. In what follows, the youth movements of the three East Asian countries are introduced, then examined through a comparative analysis.

The purpose of this study is to analyze what commonalities and differences exist in the language and repertoires that constitute resistance, that is, whether they share similar issues or similar methods, forms, and repertoires of contention. I will analyze the structures of political opportunities, core agendas, and issues of the youth social movements, and compare their frames, representative slogans, repertoires, organization method, use of media. Through this comparative analysis, I aim to gain better understanding of the youth activisms, especially on how the frames and repertoires of the movements are composed. This examination will uncover how the youth's utopian and value-oriented ideals are structured and what strategies are taken by the young people in different countries to achieve these ideals. …

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