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  • Between the Streets and the Assembly: Social Movements, Political Parties, and Democracy in Korea by Yoonkyung Lee
  • Minyoung Kim
Between the Streets and the Assembly: Social Movements, Political Parties, and Democracy in Korea, by Yoonkyung Lee. Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press, 2022. 244 pages.

Some of us, who have tasted the enthusiasm of activism, may have probably been driven to despair to see that our desire for social change gets blunted as soon as it is placed on a legislator's desk in a form of a bill. We, perhaps more of us, also wonder how activism mold and empower progressive reform agendas before they are presented to electorates. This volume peaks into what happens in between. Specifically, the author examines three different pathways through which reform agendas can be realized in politics. Overall, this book makes a crucial scholarly contribution by bridging the intellectual gap between studies on institutional politics and social movements.

Between the Streets and the Assembly largely consists of two parts. While the detailed elaborations on the three roads taken by former pro-democracy activists are at the foreground of this volume, the first two chapters successfully pave the way for that highlight by sketching the extensive historical background of Korean party politics and civil society before and [End Page 413] throughout the authoritarian regimes. Covering the political genealogy that has shaped today's political terrain in Korea, the earlier chapters serve as a well-designed textbook for advanced learners of Korean politics and social movements.

The author casts a question that is particularly intriguing to anyone familiar with the fact that "South Koreans are really good at protesting" (p. 2) and the Korean civil society's high capacity for mobilizing and advancing people's demands on a national scale. That is, "What makes Korean citizens continue to go to the streets to articulate political demands?" and "Why do existing [or newly formed] political parties fail to respond to the people's call for new politics?" (p. 4). Throughout the volume, the answers are given by tracing the three trajectories taken by former pro-democracy activists after Korea's political democratization: remaining in the social movement sector as an activist, joining the centrist party as a politician, and establishing progressive parties from scratch to enter the legislative body.

In the first of the three main chapters, the author examines how today's civil society took its shape along with the demise of decades-long authoritarian rule. It is impressively described how the Korean civil society which was previously in unison against autocratic rule embraces the democratic transition and reorganizes itself in a way that can respond to the diversified interests and demands of the public. This preceding process explains how the activist group becomes the most influential and resourceful force, of the three groups being examined, that can systematically produce and push for reform agendas. The author underscores both the "national solidarity infrastructure" (p. 42) that enables a rapid, nationwide mobilization as well as the soft power that fills and circulates the structure with professional expertise.

The next chapter demonstrates former pro-democracy activists' entry into the centrist party as politicians and is perhaps the core of this volume. Particularly, this chapter makes scholars of political sociology and social movements its primary audience as it best engages with the puzzle provoked between institutional politics and social movements—"Why do politicians fail to respond to people's call for reforming party politics?" The author probes the structure of political parties which influenced how former pro-democracy activists entered the parties and sought their political careers. In addition to their pursuit for reelection, the politicians' altered relationship with the civic groups with which they were previously associated reveals an interesting dilemma posed in the position of civic groups and their relationships with institutional politics. It is that people's high trust in social movement organizations, while buttressing their [End Page 414] autonomy, also takes its toll by distancing them from institutional politics and the civil society's engagement therein.

The alternative journey to establish progressive parties in the legislature is elaborated on in the third chapter, highlighting the lessons learned from their rise and...