Mediatized Populisms| Exuberant Politics on the Internet: Two Forms of Popular Politics in South Korea’s 2008 “Beef Protests”

Jiyeon Kang


This study examines South Korea’s “beef protests” of 2008, with a focus on how these Internet-born popular protests challenged and overcame a populism anchored in the political elite. In the 2007 presidential election, conservative Lee Myung-bak won a landslide victory with an appeal to national and individual prosperity. However, immediately after his election, a popular uprising took place in South Korea when Lee decided to import American beef despite broad concern about mad cow disease. This article examines the process whereby South Korea’s young Internet users swiftly turned from advocates to critics of Lee and mobilized for nationwide protests against him and against the Korea–U.S. free trade agreement. Drawing from Jacques Rancière’s concepts of police and demos, I argue that the course of these events points to two dynamics of populism. First, populism succeeds when a politician or issue captivates public desires by metonymically embodying these desires. Second, in such cases, the public’s desire cannot be fully represented or contained by traditional political institutions, and politics created from below lead to exuberant politics that defy institutional politics.


Internet activism, beef protest, South Korea, popular politics, youth

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