Cover of These Islands Are Ours by Alexander Bukh
These Islands Are Ours
The Social Construction of Territorial Disputes in Northeast Asia
Alexander Bukh


232 pages.

Hardcover ISBN: 9781503611894
Ebook ISBN: 9781503611900

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Co-Winner of the 2021 ISA Asia-Pacific Distinguished Book Award, sponsored by the International Studies Association (ISA).

Winner of the 2020 Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title, sponsored by the American Library Association.

Territorial disputes are one of the main sources of tension in Northeast Asia. Escalation in such conflicts often stems from a widely shared public perception that the territory in question is of the utmost importance to the nation. While that's frequently not true in economic, military, or political terms, citizens' groups and other domestic actors throughout the region have mounted sustained campaigns to protect or recover disputed islands. Quite often, these campaigns have wide-ranging domestic and international consequences.

Why and how do territorial disputes that at one point mattered little, become salient? Focusing on non-state actors rather than political elites, Alexander Bukh explains how and why apparently inconsequential territories become central to national discourse in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. These Islands Are Ours challenges the conventional wisdom that disputes-related campaigns originate in the desire to protect national territory and traces their roots to times of crisis in the respective societies. This book gives us a new way to understand the nature of territorial disputes and how they inform national identities by exploring the processes of their social construction, and amplification.

About the author

Alexander Bukh is Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Victoria University of Wellington. He is the author of Japan's Identity and Foreign Policy: Russia as Japan's 'Other' (2009) and the producer and co-director of the documentary This Island Is Ours: Defending Dokdo/Retrieving Takeshima (2016).

"In this refreshing book, Alexander Bukh marshals an impressive range of evidence and marries it to a theoretically nuanced approach to say something new and original. These Islands Are Ours will appeal to a wide audience that wishes to understand the micro-level processes by which the competing narratives and identities around these disputes are constructed."

—Hugo Dobson, University of Sheffield

"In this valuable contribution to our understanding of territorial disputes in Asia, Alexander Bukh does an admirable job of drawing attention to the internal dynamics in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. This book will be of interest to IR and Asia specialists seeking to understand how 'national identity entrepreneurs' in domestic politics shape societal narratives of territorial disputes, and how also the shifting patterns of their entrepreneurship can be consequential in taking on and eliciting responses from the state in times of deep flux and beyond."

—Saadia M. Pekkanen, University of Washington

"Bukh creatively employs a constructivist perspective....He excellently demonstrates how critical junctures and post–WW II reforms enabled greater civic action focused on the injustice of the loss of territory. Highly recommended."

—C. W. Herrick, CHOICE

"Bukh's layering of evidence—whether newspaper articles, interviews, or other media—supports a 'thick description' of the shifting but ultimately meaningful construction of national narratives about identity and territory in Northeast Asia. It is a valuable contribution to the study of international relations in Asia, especially for showing how narratives about territorial disputes are semiotically deployed, interpreted, and transformed."

—Ian Parker, Pacific Affairs

"For students with an interest in exploring new methods in East Asian area studies, These Islands is an example of interpretive research that cites a rich tapestry of sources, such as pamphlets, prefectural and government reports, petitions, newspapers, educational material, postcards, advertisements, and stamps... The book makes a valuable contribution to East Asian international relations."

—Nidhi Prasad, Journal of Asian Studies

"These Islands Are Ours is an important contribution to both the literature on territoriality and territorial conflict and our understanding of Northeast Asian Territorial disputes...It is [the] interaction of domestic and international politics—those two- (or three-) level games—that scholars of territoriality should turn to next. These Islands Are Ours leads the way."

—Boaz Atzili, Political Science Quarterly