Silent Victory: Transnational Redress Movement of Korean Atomic Bomb Victims

Project: Research

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The literature on transnational social movements paints a picture of aggrieved local actors vying for global visibility and strategically adopting global norms to remedy their domestic grievances. This typical image of transnational activism, however, does not fully align with a social movement that I propose to study: the transnational redress movement of Korean atomic bomb victims, also known as Korean hibakusha. This understudied binational movement that crosses the often-frosty national borders of Korea and Japan represents a case of low-profile, small-scale transnational activism, where activists deviate from the trend of courting powerful transnational advocates and adopting international norms. Still, against all odds, the movement has been efficacious. Why?Capitalizing on my theoretical expertise in social movements and international relations, as well as country knowledge of Korea and Japan, this project will shed light on the dynamics of the Korean hibakusha redress movement: its emergence, efficacy, and framing. The movement presents three puzzles, which I will explore in three inter-linked articles and eventually in a book manuscript. The combined outputs will contribute to the interconnected literatures on issue emergence, transnational social movement efficacy, and international norms.First, the redress movement raises questions about issue emergence. Korean hibakusha emerged as a domestic issue in Japan as early as in the 1970s, thereby enabling its emergence as a transnational issue and prompting transnational advocacy. In Korea, however, their obscurity – or issue non-emergence – persists. Why, then, did the issue emerge in the “perpetrator” state but not in the “victim” state? In what ways do domestic issue emergence dynamics shape transnational issue emergence, and vice versa?Second, the movement highlights what I tentatively call “efficacy paradox in transnational activism.” The redress movement will be juxtaposed vis-à-vis the comfort women’s redress movement – the former is low-profile yet surprisingly efficacious, whereas the latter is high-profile yet tragically underachieving. The surprising efficacy of the Korean hibakusha's little-known, small-scale transnational movement contradicts the rather simple equation of high visibility and strong transnational pressure with high efficacy. Third, the movement deviates from the discursive trend of many other social movements that increasingly resort to international norms. Why did the Korean victims not adopt powerful global norms as movement frames, and why were they still relatively successful? The disconnect between global norms and movement framing is an important yet understudied phenomenon in a literature that tends to focus on successful cases of norm diffusion and norm adoption.  


Project number9048231
Grant typeECS
StatusNot started
Effective start/end date1/11/21 → …