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Nam Center Colloquium Series | Contested Diffusion of Human Rights: Evidence from the South Korean Print Media, 1990-2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2016
12:00 AM
Room 1636 School of Social Work Building

Cosponsored by the U-M Human Rights Initiative and the U-M Department of Sociology.

I examine the South Korean media coverage of human rights during the period, 1990-2010. I code 1,943 newspaper articles with mentions of human rights obtained from three major South Korean print media. Korea serves as an interesting case where human rights recently emerged as a major policy frame, entered school curricula, and penetrated into the public attitudes. Using a mix-methods approach, I analyze (a) how and why human rights appeared in South Korea, (b) how the coverage became increasingly contested, and (c) what domestic conditions led to the intensified contestation over the meaning and scope of human rights. My contention is that a key consequential aspect of the ongoing spread of human rights involves contestation over the meaning and scope of human rights; their meanings are challenged and their scopes are broadened in several unexpected ways. I maintain that tremendous domestic processes, such as ideological competition, traditional cultural responses, and prioritizing social order and/or national security, are responsible for this conflict-laden process of diffusion. It, in turn, challenges the assumption of the human rights diffusion literature that the top-down diffusion process is so straightforward that the cultural and institutional model is adopted without much of disputes.

Jeong-Woo Koo is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, Korea, Director of the Sungkyunkwan Center for Human Rights and Development, and Manager of SSK Human Rights Forum ( He is currently Visiting Professor at Harvard-Yenching Institute (2015-2016). His research interests include human rights, international development, and corporate ethics. His publications have appeared in Social Forces, Sociology of Education, Comparative Education Review, Human Rights Quarterly, International Journal of Comparative Sociology, Social Science History,Korea Observer, and numerous other Korea-based journals. He is currently working on several projects that examine determinants of human rights attitudes, the mechanisms of foreign aid allocations, the adoption of corporate social responsibility norms among Korean transnational corporations, and the making of human rights in South Korea. Jeong-Woo Koo holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Stanford University.

Jeong-Woo Koo, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Sungkyunkwan University