Book Review - Celeste Arrington "Accidental Activists: Victim Movements and Government Accountability in Japan and South Korea" (Cornell University Press, 2016)
This extensively researched and succinctly written book effectively compares the processes and outcomes of several major movements for victims’ redress from governments in Japan and Korea. The focus is on campaigns that developed especially from the 1990s, an era of perceived “judicialization of politics, enabled by democratization in Korea in 1987 and more competitive electoral politics in Japan since 1993” (p. 203), when victims sought redress for poor decisions regarding Hansen’s disease (leprosy, as discussed in ch. 3), blood tainted with Hepatitis C (ch. 4) and abductions by North Korean authorities (ch. 5).
Arrington examines not just the respective victims’ contestations with the state, but also the nature and timing of their interactions with key mediating institutions (ch. 2): the legal profession (to pursue litigation), the media (providing publicity for their causes), and activist groups (for lobbying). In particular, she emphases how too much early engagement with politicians – even “elite allies” – aimed at achieving legislative or bureaucratic intervention, as occurs more in Korea’s more open-textured democratic process, may lead perversely to poorer redress outcomes as the issue becomes more polarised politically.