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A Soulful Egg Can Break a Rock: A Case Study of a South Korean Social Movement Leader's Rhetoric

This dissertation introduces and analyzes Ven. Hyemoon’s rhetoric emanating from his leadership of the civic group, the Committee for the Return of Korean Cultural Property in South Korea. On the surface, he seems focused on retrieving cultural artifacts, pillaged by the Japanese colonial invasion. His work, upon deeper analysis, emerges to be about regaining a Korean cultural and national identity that is historically grounded, civically engaged and morally reflective. This study is informed by multiple theories (i.e., framing, narrative, social semiotics, critical geography, rhetoric, and social movement) to examine aspects of a phenomenon in depth – involving nationalism, social movement, rhetoric, repatriation, colonialism, and cultural resources – that work together to dissect or dismantle the complex construction of meanings and processes of specific social movement rhetoric. The central focus is on the examination of Hyemoon’s discursive construction of what it means to be authentic Koreans within the context of South Korea situated within a post-colonial, post-cold war, and post-democratizing movement as well as within global capitalism. The primary focus is on how historical, cultural, and moral landscapes mediated by Korean cultural artifacts are constructed and represented to the public in Hyemoon’s rhetoric and performance. In particular, the ways in which Korean collective-identity landscapes are depicted by relating cultural artifacts to specific places in history is considered. Moreover, the study examines discursive and performative practices and strategies that Hyemoon has adopted and developed to construct and represent his message by using linguistic, visual, and other material signs and symbols. Each chapter explores Hyemoon’s discourse by adopting different theories and focusing on specific events. The study concludes that Hyemoon’s discourse and performance appeals to the Korean public, engaging this audience in associating particular cultural assets with experiential, historic, and social collective memory. Most importantly, he reframes the meaning of cultural artifacts while also searching for cultural assets in terms of morality and civic agency. By offering a new interpretive framework, this work also finds that Hyemoon’s activism is effective in specific historic, political contexts of South Korea, in particular during the extension of the previous democratization social movement that had become quiescent.
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