Political Opportunities and Local Strategies of Protest; Renewable energy siting conflicts in South Korea
Prof. Dr. Miranda Schreurs
Although renewable energy technologies are highlighted as alternatives to overcome current energy problems such as resource depletion or global warming, the renewable energy deployment policy in Korea has faced strong opposition in recent years. The opponents resist renewable energy facilities due to concerns about environmental destruction, uncertainties over costs versus benefits, or the feeling of being excluded from decision making processes. Such controversies are common in other countries, yet the expression of the siting conflicts in Korea frequently appears in non-institutionalized ways, such as illegal occupation of sites, disobedience of court judgments, or even suicides.
This research starts with a key question: why are siting conflicts in Korea taking on violent forms? The concept of political opportunity structure will be employed to explain the factors and the process leading to the violent expression of the siting conflicts in renewable energy projects. Rather than focusing just on internal conflict factors which previous research emphasized, the concept of the political opportunity structure will attempt to also consider exogenous social and political structures which may influence the institutions determining the emergence and development of conflicts. Thus, this dissertation argues that the political opportunity structure in Korea is relatively more restrictive in terms of civil society’s resources compared to private capital’s resources. As a result civil society uses non-institutionalized approaches in conflicts. To verify this argument, this study explores seven conflict cases which involved violent expression in Korea. The study uses the process tracing approach and examines power relationships between relevant actors. Taking into consideration the historical context of the country, this dissertation seeks to reveal whether the embedded relationship between the state and capital, which was created to achieve the economic growth goals of the Korean developmental state, has suppressed the autonomy of civil society, and whether this has led to imbalances in the political opportunity structure, in particular in terms of the restriction of the state’s openness to civil society and in the capacity of civil society.
Key Words: siting conflicts, renewable energy, political opportunity structure, process tracing, embeddedness, technocratic approach, participatory governance