Digital populism in South Korea. The case of WOMAD

Activity: Academic talk or presentation typesInvited talk


Populism is widely acknowledged to capture the ‘Zeitgeist’ of the early 21st century. Populism offers a dichotomous vision of politics and society that places the people in opposition to political elites whose legitimacy is questioned. Scholars of populism indicates a presupposition of a clear and antagonistic dichotomy between the “pure people” and the “corrupt elite”; as a solution, populism proposes an unmediated link between the people and the leader, thus leading to unmediated popular sovereignty. Arguably, one of the defining features of 21st century populism is its extensive reliance on technology. Nowhere is this more evident than in South Korea. Korea’s history of online activism and in some cases digital populism goes back to the Roh Moo-hyun presidential campaign of 2002, when young campaigners effectively pushed former human rights lawyer Roh to the presidency. More recently, months-long candlelight vigils in 2016 and 2017 were aided by social media – mobilising Korean citizens against then president Park, accused of an influence-peddling scandal. South Korea offers quite a heterogeneous variety of populist movements. Thus, an attempt at mapping and ordering this evolving phenomenon is in order.

The paper zooms in on two examples of feminist movements since 2017: the metoo movement and ‘Womad’. Over late 2017 and throughout 2018 metoo has first shocked the world and then highlighted both the empowering potential of this movement and, in some cases, its limits. The paper also examines the case study of ‘Womad’. Womad is an women’s online discussion group, whose name integrates women and ‘nomad’. The paper argues that it is Korea’s highly politicised and polarised environment that also accounts for the recent backlash experienced by the movement. The paper draws from frame analysis to highlight both the agency of Korean women and the way in which the Korea has drawn on and contributed to the global metoo movement, while focusing on distinctively local issues. By so doing, it contributes to what is currently still an under-theorised body of literature, integrating insights and tools from sociology (most notably social movements and online activism) and political science (especially on populism). The case study of Womad – and the role in the background of far-right websites like ILBE - illustrates the logic, narratives and framing strategies of this online group.
Period4 Jul 20196 Jul 2019
Held atInternational Studies Association (Asia-Pacific), Singapore
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Populism
  • Korea
  • Asia
  • Womad
  • feminism
  • gender
  • Online activism