SOAS University of London

Centre of Taiwan Studies

Does deliberative democracy matter? The experience of social movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong

Leon N. Kunz

Date: 20 June 2019Time: 1:30 PM

Finishes: 20 June 2019Time: 3:00 PM

Venue: Brunei Gallery Room: B103

Type of Event: Summer School

As this event is part of our SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies Summer School, we kindly ask that you register to attend


Leon Profile

My presentation explores conceptions and practices of democracy in social movements in Taiwan (Republic of China) and Hong Kong. During the “Sunflower Movement” of March 2014 activists occupied Taiwan’s parliament to halt the ratification of a trade deal with the People’s Republic of China (PRC). They raised questions about the democratic legitimacy of the ratification process, as well as about the potential impact of closer economic ties with the PRC on Taiwan’s young representative democracy. In September of the same year, Hong Kong’s “Umbrella Movement” emerged in response to the PRC government’s restrictive decision on democratic reform in Hong Kong. The participants, many of whom viewed Taiwan’s social movements as an inspiration, occupied the streets in order to demand the introduction of what they called “genuine” universal suffrage.

In both contexts, activists experimented with participatory and deliberative forms of democracy. For instance, the Umbrella Movement was preceded by a sustained campaign that lasted for more than a year and that included the implementation of deliberative democracy in public assemblies. During the occupation, the deliberations were revived in a less systematic and structured fashion. Similarly, in the case of the Sunflower Movement, there were deliberations inside the occupied legislature and more structured experiments with deliberative democracy in the surrounding streets. However, despite these exercises, both social movements did not feature a high degree of internal democracy. Major decisions were taken by a core leadership that was involved in negotiations with the state.

The presentation introduces my PhD project and presents some preliminary findings. I will focus on the Taiwanese case and explore questions such as: How and why is deliberative democracy practiced in social movements? What are the possibilities and limitations of deliberative democracy in social movements?

Speaker Biography

Leon N. Kunz is a PhD candidate in the Department of Politics and International Studies at SOAS University of London. His research explores how participants in recent social movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan conceived and practiced democracy in order to reflect on broader questions of participation, leadership, and legitimacy. Leon’s wider research interests include comparative political theory, social movement studies, democratization, deliberative democracy, and East Asian international relations.

In 2018, while on fieldwork, Leon was a visiting scholar at the Center for Chinese Studies of Taiwan’s National Central Library and affiliated with the Department of Sociology of National Taiwan University. Leon received a BA in Political Science from Free University of Berlin (2013), an MSc in Politics of China from SOAS (2014), and a Social Science Research MA from Humboldt University of Berlin (2016). He also studied Mandarin Chinese at Nanjing University (2010-11). In 2018-19, Leon was a graduate teaching assistant for the course International Relations of East Asia at SOAS.

Organiser: SOAS Centre of Taiwan Studies

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