In January 2011, Kim Jin-Suk a former welder and union activist, climbed atop Crane 85 located 35 meters above ground at a Hanjin shipyard near the Korean port city of Busan. There, she lived without running water and endured subzero temperatures and monsoon rains for ten consecutive months (309 days) to protest the layoff of 400 shipyard workers.
This year, Professor Jennifer Chun received a SSHRC Insight Grant to study people like Kim Jin-Suk. The project asks: Why do people engage in the kinds of public protest that involve exceptional sacrifice and a high level of social suffering?
Though her case is extreme, Jin-Suk is actually part of a broader trend that is particularly pronounced in South Korea where crackdowns against more traditional forms of labour activism have resulted in the emergence in new, highly dramatic forms of protest. In addition to people like Jin-Suk who protest alone, high above the ground, other protesters have engaged in solitary hunger strikes where one person is committed to the entire duration of the hunger strike, whilst other participants join the protest for part of the time. Yet others use Buddhist prostration rituals as a form of protest. One-person protests help evade legal prohibitions against political assembly by asserting the power of one where the one person is a single node in a long sequence of many.
By examining the cultivation of new protest practices during a period of intensifying inequality and market-driven change, Professor Chun is advancing understanding of the kinds of expectations and aspirations that motivate people to seek justice and the ways in which they connect individual experience with group suffering and public engagement.