Dissertations and Theses

Date of Award


Document Type



International Relations

First Advisor

Jean Krasno

Second Advisor

Kimberly Gamble-Payne


Comfort Women, Activism, South Korea, International, Law, Policy, Statue of Peace


The goal of this thesis is to draw attention to the often overlooked work that is done by activists and their networks when it comes to influencing international policy and law. The case study looks at the “Comfort Women” issue, an unresolved conflict from when the Japanese Imperial Army forced women from its colonies into sexual slavery during World War II. It is a fiercely debated topic throughout Asia, specifically between South Korea and Japan. Here I argue that not only do non-state actors have great influence over the debate and direction this issue takes in international forums, but that a statue placed outside of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, South Korea, is a major a force in and of itself in pushing the activists’ agenda for international recognition and support. The statues name in Korean is “Sonyeosang” [So-Neo- Sang] and is translated to “Statue of a little girl.” I argue that the domestic politics and policies of countries are changed when activists networks circumvent their own governments and take their issue internationally, gaining the support of elites in international forums and in other countries. The issue is brought back around by these higher institutions affecting change in domestic policy and politics--the so called “boomerang effect” discussed by Margaret Keck and Kathryn Sikkink. Adding to their theoretical framework I argue that an even greater force than the formal activist networks are the activists that benefit from an anarchic structure to their organizing and are not limited by typical political pathways or decorum. This is based in James C. Scott’s work on the everyday forms of resistance by the politically powerless. Here I rely on the empirical evidence I gathered when I filmed and embedded myself with activists protecting the statue outside of the Japanese embassy from removal.



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