Cultural Performance and Political Regime Change*


  • *

    Address correspondence to: Thomas Kern, Heidelberg University, Institute of Sociology, Bergheimer Str. 58, 69115 Heidelberg, Germany. Tel.: 0049-6221-542983; Fax: 0049-6221-542996. E-mail: The author wishes to thank Sang-hui Nam for her comments and suggestions.


The question about how culture shapes the possibilities for successful democratization has been a controversial issue for decades. This article maintains that successful democratization depends not only on the distribution of political interests and resources, but to seriously challenge a political regime, the advocates of democracy require cultural legitimacy as well. Accordingly, the central question is how democratic ideas are connected to the broader culture of a social community. This issue will be addressed in the case of South Korea. The Minjung democracy movement challenged the military regime by connecting democratic ideas concerning popular sovereignty and human rights with cultural traditions. The dissidents substantiated democratic values by (1) articulating an alternative concept of political representation against the authoritarian regime, (2) increasing the cultural resonance of their concept by linking democratic ideas to traditional narratives and practices, (3) developing a rich dramaturgical repertoire of collective action, and (4) mobilizing public outrage by fusing the above three elements within historical situations.