Social Movement in Comparative Perspective

The global upsurge of social movements over the past decade has placed many new issues to social movements at the center of the intellectual agenda, such as digital suppression from the regime and subsequent resistance, Generation Z and its implications for political activism, and the interaction between social protesters and party politics in a world of declining political party influence.

This seminar draws international leading scholars in the fields of communication, political science, international relations, anthropology, and area studies to discuss some of these emerging and pressing issues in researching social movements and political contention from a comparative perspective for theoretical discovery and methodological innovation.

Registration - light lunches will be provided for registers (registration deadline 18 May).


09:45-10:00 Arrival, pastry, and coffee

Welcome – introduction by Jun Liu (University of Copenhagen)

10:05-10:35 Keynote Speech 1: Beyond the Peak of Mobilization by Professor Francis L.F. Lee (The Chinese University of Hong Kong)


10:55-11:25 Keynote Speech 2: Gen Z and The Leni Campaign in the Philippines by Professor Duncan McCargo (The University of Copenhagen)
11:25-11:40 Q&A

Research presentations (12 mins for each presentation + 8 mins Q&A)
Democratic backsliding disrupted by Megan Ryan (University of Michigan) & Dr. Mai Van Tran (University of Copenhagen).
Authoritarian Legacies, Collective Identity, and Far-right Protest: Lessons from the Taegeukgi Rallies in South Korea by Dr. Myunghee Lee (University of Copenhagen & University of Georgia).
Transnational Movements for Karen Seed, Food and Political Sovereignty by Dr. Terese Virginia Gagnon (University of Copenhagen).

12:45-13:00 Wrap-up
13:00- Lunches


Keynote Speech 1: Beyond the Peak of Mobilization: Understanding Movement Continuity in Hong Kong, 2014 to 2022

Professor Francis L.F. Lee, the Chinese University of Hong Kong

Many scholars have noted a troubling tendency for social movement scholars to focus on moments of extraordinary mobilization rather than movements with ups and downs, twists and turns. In the case of Hong Kong, while the Umbrella Movement in 2014 and the Anti-Extradition Protests in 2019 captured the world’s attention, what happened in-between the two peaks of mobilization? And what happened after 2019 and the establishment of National Security Law in 2020? This talk will discuss three different types of processes during movement abeyance. First, the Umbrella Movement led to the outburst of social and political energy, which sedimented into new organizational and associational forces after the movement, strengthening the abeyance structure of the pro-democracy movement. Second, the Umbrella Movement also led to the increasing appeal of localism, and the relational dynamics between the state and the pro-democracy movement contributed to an ideological shift among the public. Third, while the Chinese state's hardline approach to governing Hong Kong after the protest events 2019 and 2020 has prevented these two processes from recurring, what emerges is a politics of preservation as pro-democracy citizens and activists strive for ways to maintain their values, identities, and connections in covert and disguised manners.

Keynote Speech 2: Gen Z and The Leni Campaign in the Philippines

Professor Duncan McCargo, the University of Copenhagen

Since around 2018, progressive Gen Z social and political activism has emerged in several locations around Asia, notably Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand and Myanmar. Gen Z activists have opposed the rise of authoritarianism, resisted coups, challenged PRC narratives and embraced progressive political parties and candidates. Yet this phenomenon has been much less evident in island Southeast Asia, where young voters have for the most part remained closely bound to traditional politicians and sympathetic to the appeals of nativism and populism. Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, known for his tough-talking style and early focus on a brutal war on drugs, enjoyed considerable population with the young throughout his six year term. Yet the 2022 election campaign has seen the rise of a youth-oriented movement inspired by the presidential campaign of Leni Robredo, a movement that has even reached into Marcos heartlands in the so-called ‘Solid North’. This preliminary presentation draws on interviews and fieldwork conducted as an international election observer in the country during April and May 2022.

Democratic backsliding disrupted: The role of digitalized resistance in Myanmar

Megan Ryan, University of Michigan & Dr. Mai Van Tran, University of Copenhagen

More than one year since its coup, the Myanmar military has neither managed to establish effective control of the territory nor has it been able to crush online dissent. What factors have enabled the resistance forces to deny the consolidation of military rule and disrupt democratic backsliding both online and offline? We address this question by building a novel theoretical framework that incorporates the under-analyzed role of long-standing digitalized pro-democracy activism and employing an innovative empirical design, including mixed-method analysis of an original, largely representative sample of public Facebook posts in post-coup Myanmar. We find that the development of online and hybrid pro-democracy activism against digital abuse and other illiberal policies under previous quasi-civilian governments plays a crucial role in enabling anti-coup resistance forces to thwart the military’s more significant attempt of authoritarian revival later on. Our research findings deepen understanding of Myanmar’s post-coup contestation dynamics as well as other cases of unpopular autocratization in the current-day digital era.

Authoritarian Legacies, Collective Identity, and Far-right Protest: Lessons from the Taegeukgi Rallies in South Korea

Dr. Myunghee Lee, University of Copenhagen & University of Georgia

South Korean conservatives have organized a movement called the Taegeukgi Rallies. This movement started in late 2016 to oppose the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye. Then, the movement transformed into a series of anti-government protests after the formation of the new administration by President Moon Jae-in. This movement is puzzling since the literature on mass mobilization does not provide good explanations about the movement’s timing, demographic composition, and protest agendas. With the in-depth interviews with rally participants and non-participants, this study suggests an alternative explanation that the collective identity shaped from authoritarian socialization and strengthened with authoritarian nostalgia plays a significant role in mobilizing rally participants.

Transnational Movements for Karen Seed, Food and Political Sovereignty

This research traces the sensory and political dimensions of Karen refugees from Myanmar and their co-movements with their seeds, plants, and agricultural practices in exile. It also tentatively explores understandings of sovereignty beyond the frame of the Westphalian nation-state through engagements with seed and food sovereignty in three locations that complicate understandings of territorial sovereignty. Considering relationships between people and plants in the context of forced migration and exile provides a unique vantage from which to understand Indigenous sovereignty across borders. It also contributes to provincializing and ultimately moving beyond the concept of Westphalian, or territorial, sovereignty that has historically helped to produce and sustain understandings of humanity as overdetermined by (European middleclass) “Man” (Wynter 2003). This overdetermination, as manifested in the nation-state, has resulted in the exclusion of vast swaths of people from humanity.

Speakers’ bio

Terese Gagnon is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies and the Department of Political Science at the University of Copenhagen, focused on “The Politics of Climate and Sustainability in Asia.” She holds a PhD in anthropology from Syracuse University. Her current book project, a multi-sited ethnography, is about Karen food, seed, and political sovereignty across landscapes of home and exile. She is co-editor of the book Movable Gardens: Itineraries and Sanctuaries of Memory and is currently editing a second volume, Embodying Biodiversity. Terese incorporates creative forms, including ethnographic poetry and visual anthropology, in her scholarly work.

Dr Francis Lee is a Professor at and Director of School of Journalism and Communication at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). He obtained his Bachelor's and Master’s degrees at the CUHK, and PhD at Stanford University. Professor Lee is the International Communication Association (ICA) fellow. His research interests are journalism studies, political communication, public opinion and public discourse, media and social movements, and changes in cultural values. His recent work focuses on press freedom and political change, media and collective memory of political events, media and political scandals, and postmaterialism in Hong Kong. One of his books important for this discussion series is with Joseph Man (2018) Media and protest logics in the digital era: Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, published by Oxford University Press.

Myunghee Lee is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies at the University of Copenhagen. She also is a Nonresident Fellow at the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia. Her research focuses on protest, authoritarian politics, and democratization. Her regional focus is on China and the Korean Peninsula. Her postdoctoral project is a comparative study on the persistence of authoritarian legacies in South Korea and Poland. Her work appears in journals such as International Security, International Studies Review, and Politics & Gender.

Jun Liu is an award-winning author and Associate Professor in the Center for Tracking and Society ( and the Department of Communication, University of Copenhagen. His research areas cover political communication, information and communication technologies, and political sociology. He has won several awards from the American Political Science Association and the International Communication Association and been a visiting scholar in Stanford University, Oxford University, and Cambridge University. His latest research outcome is Shifting Dynamics of Contention in the Digital Age (Oxford University Press, 2020). He is the recipient of IRFD Sapere Aude: DFF-Starting Grant “To Use or Not to Use? A Relational Approach to ICTs as Repertoire of Contention” (

Duncan McCargo is Director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies and a professor of political science at the University of Copenhagen. He works mainly on the comparative politics of Southeast Asia, notably Thailand, on which his most recent books are Fighting for Virtue: Justice and Politics in Thailand (Cornell 2019) and Future Forward: The Rise and Fall of a Thai Political Party (NIAS Press 2020). He first visited the Philippines in 1987, and was an official observer during the 2022 elections with the Asian Network for Free Elections (ANFREL).

Mai Van Tran is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies with a Ph.D. from Cornell University. She studies contentious politics and digital cultures under authoritarianism in Myanmar and beyond.