Sharon Yoon awarded National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship for anti-racism research in Japan

Sharon Yoon, assistant professor of Korean Studies in the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame, has been awarded a fellowship by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Japan-United States Friendship Commission to research anti-racist movements that support Korean minorities living in Japan.

For her project, “Social Media Activism and the Fight against Hate in Osaka’s Koreatown,” Yoon will analyze how social network sites have opened up new avenues for civic engagement in Japan. In particular, Yoon’s project analyzes how physical environments such as Korean enclaves shape the ways activists share information and resources to effect legislative change.

“My project asks what types of environments allow marginalized activists to effectively harness the powers of social media to bring together people for their cause,” said Yoon, a faculty fellow of the Keough School’s Liu Institute for Asia and Asian Studies. “At the heart of effective social movements, you need people willing to put their physical and emotional well-being on the line for a greater cause, and this is not achieved by just sharing tweets or Facebook posts. Leaders of small communities can then expand their reach online, but ultimately, I argue that people become committed to activism by building real relationships with each other in physical communities like the enclave.”

Yoon’s research will examine how a group of third- and fourth-generation Korean activists (otherwise known as zainichi Koreans) led a counter-movement to stop far-right hate rallies targeting Korean communities between 2013 and 2015. Bringing together a broad coalition of left-wing activists, LGBTQ minorities, human rights lawyers, and ordinary Japanese citizens, the counter-activists were able to pressure local politicians to implement the first anti-hate speech ordinance in Osaka and later, a national anti-hate speech bill in 2016. 

“I want to understand how a group of disenfranchised minorities was able to achieve such concrete legislative measures so quickly,’” Yoon said. “Zainichi Koreans represent a little over one percent Japan’s population, are descendants of labor migrants who once worked under slave-like conditions, and some cases continue to occupy the lowest rungs of society.” 

Yoon’s research findings could provide helpful data for countering racism in other parts of the world as well. 

“Structurally what is going on in Japan is happening all over the world,” Yoon said. “People are mobilizing from the bottom up through the internet. We see this battle between the left and right playing out right before our eyes in sometimes violent ways on the streets. I believe that it is critical to better understand how social media is changing the world of politics for the better and for the worse.” 

The Fellowships for Advanced Social Science Research on Japan program is a joint activity of the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The goals of the program are to promote Japan studies in the United States, to encourage US-Japanese scholarly exchange, and to support the next generation of Japan scholars in the United States. 

Awards support research on modern Japanese society and political economy, Japan’s international relations, and US-Japan relations. The program encourages innovative research that puts these subjects in wider regional and global contexts and is comparative and contemporary in nature. Research should contribute to scholarly knowledge or to the general public’s understanding of issues of concern to Japan and the United States.

Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation.

Sharon Yoon bio


Related Articles: