Everyday Politics of “Dokdo” and South Korean National Identity

An Analysis of Education, Media, and Civil Society

In: The Korean Journal of International and Comparative Law
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  • 1 The C.W. Lim and Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies, American University’s School of International Service, Washington, DC, United States
  • 2 Ph.D. student in International Relations, American University’s School of International Service, Washington, DC, United States

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Abstract

In this article, we show that the Dokdo/Takeshima islands issue has become a cultural phenomenon in South Korea, in which the popular desire for national pride has increasingly been intertwined with the government’s efforts for promoting its policy position vis-à-vis Japan. We argue that narratives on Dokdo – created in and through activities in the realms of education, media, and civil society activism – are designed to enhance South Korean territorial sovereignty over the islands. In the process, however, Dokdo has become a symbol of Korean identity or “Koreanness,” as the public, teachers, students, and activists have all engaged in meaning-making activities surrounding the islands. This phenomenon has become salient, in part because these actors sought to respond to Japan’s own activities, including the designation of “Takeshima Day” in 2005. As part of a grassroots movement, their strategy of creating everyday symbols over the islands not just expressed, but also reproduced Korean national identity.

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