Motivational dynamics of student movement participation in contemporary South Korea

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Richard E. Ratcliff


student movements, Sociology, Political science, History

Subject Categories

Politics and Social Change


This dissertation investigates the motivating forces behind student participation in political protests in contemporary South Korea. Using 1,111 self-administered questionnaires collected at ten Korean universities in the Fall 1992, I analyze the difference between proactive and nonactive students in terms of family characteristics and generational cohort experiences, and demonstrate the factors in motivating the individual student to participate in movement activities.

Two major theories on the generational dimension are explored to understand the dynamics of student political activism: the family-based socialization and the peer-based generation unit models. In this dissertation, it is assumed that neither of the two theories are exclusive of the factors which impact the political learning process and the resulting behavior, since there are various ways to be politically socialized. Political socialization can occur in different stages of one's life course and in different social contexts. Thus, I synthesize these two theoretical approaches into a single design for test and comparison.

Findings in this study lend stronger support to the generation unit perspective over the lineage socialization theory in explaining student participation in political protests in contemporary South Korea. Students in South Korea thus appear to be much more affected by cohort political subculture and environmental stimuli than by parental values.

Such findings imply that socio-historical differences between the U.S. and Korea need to be taken into account. First, the relatively rigid age-hierarchical structure of Korean society may have to do with the greater peer-influence in the formation of political views for young students. In addition, the rapid social change caused by industrialization may contribute to the poor intergenerational value communication. Second, due to the historical role students played as a social group in political opposition, Korean proactivists tend to view their action as patriotic deeds.

Socio-historical and cultural traditions may contribute to the different nature and characteristics of student movements between the U.S. and Korean societies. While the issues of student movements in the U.S. are largely related to humanitarian concerns, Korean student movements tend to be more concerned with political issues and nationalist ethos.


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