The Structure of Protest Cycles: Contagion and Cohesion in South Korea’s Democracy Movement

The Structure of Protest Cycles: Contagion and Cohesion in South Korea’s Democracy Movement

Paul Y. Chang is an Associate Professor of Sociology and Harvard University and has written six papers on protest dialetics and social movements and his current project explores His current project explores the emergence of non-traditional family structures in South Korea, including single-parent households, single-person households, and multicultural families. Professor Chang recently visited the University of Pennsylvania to speak about his research on the structure of protest cycles, using social movements specifically in South Korea as his primary evidence to support the methodological reasoning.

Professor Chang introduced the topic of protest cycle structures by giving a brief overview of traditional methods to study social movement cycles given previously by sociologists like Sidney Tarrow and Maria Cousis. Tarrow’s view on the rise of movements is the most prevalent view held by sociologists today and is summarized in his own words: “Social movements rise when shifting political conditions open opportunities for disruption and the activities of social movements in turn can alter political policies and structures." Essentially the idea is that for social movements to succeed, there must be a change in the political environment that facilitates disruption. Maria Cousis partnered with Mario Diani to research event history and to create history models using aggregate count modeling strategies according to number of protests in a region. Paul Chang essentially aims to combine these prevailing theories and to find an intersection between political opportunism and protest count strategies to identify when and why there are cycles of social movements.

Professor Chang began his talk by describing what he calls “movement diffusion,” or the idea that actions affect other actions. It is in this methodology that his finds an issue with Cousis and Diani’s findings – if one only uses aggregate counts, one is discounting the idea that one event affects another. With the assumption of movement diffusion in mind, Chang focuses his first piece of research on the dynamics of protest diffusion, movement organizations, social networks and news media in 20 th century South Korea. Essentially, he tries to find operational links between two unique protest events in which participants in the latter specifically mention the prior event in reference to solidarity, inspiration, support statements, etc. When looking at the structure of protest cycles from 1970 to 1979, one can see aggregate counts of individual events and the paper’s purpose is to identify the connections between events, and specifically how to identify why some protests are more influential than others. When looking at the aggregate number of protests resulting from Park Chunghee’s run in 1971 for his third term, Chang found two different measures of centrality when looking at maps of nodes (a single protest event). The first was “Degree Centrality”: centrality based on the sum total of direct connections to another protest. The second measure of centrality was “Betweenness Centrality,” or an ability for events to bridge events that are indirectly connected.

These measures of centrality are his key findings through his research on protest cycles. What he found was that systemic issues have higher Betweenness scores than local issues while political targets score particularly high on Betweenness scores as well. During this time, Chang also studied how independent variables like use of repression or particular leadership may affect protests. Repression was found to be the most important degree and Betweenness variable while organizational involvement and leadership mattered the most for both Betweenness and Degree centrality measures. The theoretical implications of the varying degrees of centrality between protest variables are clear: protest events that raise issues that are generalizeable resonate with more diverse communities while repression might lower the number of protests but increase the level of influence protests might exhibit. By mapping out every single event and tracking various variables and identifications of each protest, Chang highlighted the important links between influential events according to their levels of centrality. Through this map, he found that cycles of social movements need both levels of centrality to inspire future events.

In conclusion, Professor Chang did not say that his findings could be immediately applied to protests across the world, he did note that there needs to be a connection between Tarrow’s original philosophy on movement opportunism and Diani and Cousis’s strategy of counting modeling. Chang’s solution to this problem, specifically in South Korea, was to identify independent variables relating to single protest events and measuring levels of centrality based on the position of a protest node in relations to other protest nodes. By mapping each protest, he found cycles of social movements can be attributed to the two degrees of centrality, Betweenness and Degree centrally. It will be interesting to see how Professor Chang can further his research beyond his current scope of the years after Park Chunghee’s third election process. Overall, Professor Chang’s research is a step forward in understanding the structure of social movement cycles not just in South Korea, but in any context. We thank Professor Chang for coming in from Harvard to speak with us at Penn and to provide us some insight into his important research.

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