In these projects, I examine how political groups and social movements conceive of the public good, and how their conceptions affect their engagement with politics.
+ Love of land: Nature protection, nationalism, and the struggle over the establishment of new communities in Israel (with Liron Shani)
Abstract: Although there is burgeoning research on environmental activism, few studies have examined the interrelationship between nationalism and nature protection in detail. This paper examines how groups manage the tension between national commitment and caring for the environment. It focuses on two opposing Israeli activist groups: a settler movement that aims to establish new communities in the fast-dwindling Israeli open expanses, and a “green” movement intent on preserving open spaces. Our observations, interviews, and textual analysis show that both groups believe themselves to be committed to the protection of nature, and that both groups see environmental responsibility as an integral aspect of their Zionist identity. However, the Israeli green movement sees abstaining from interventions in nature and adhering to sustainable development as Zionist because it preserves Israel for future generations. Conversely, the settler movement sees active intervention in nature—by building new communities, planting trees, and hiking—as the proper way to protect Israeli natural expanses and to maintain the livelihood of Israeli society. Our case demonstrates that, although environmental movements often aspire to universalism, local movements also interlace environmentalism and nationalism in ways that generate multiple (and even contradictory) interpretations of the appropriate way to care for nature.
Please contact me if you would like a copy of this paper.
+ What does trauma have to do with politics? Cultural trauma and the displaced founding political elites of Israel and Turkey (with Gülay Türkmen)
A pre-print is available at this link.
Abstract: Recent political events, such as Brexit and Trump’s election, have inspired talk of collective trauma in academic publications and news outlets. Yet, scholars have been unclear about the processes that transform mundane political events into collective traumatic experiences. In this article, we ask how political factions come to interpret election outcomes as a trauma. We draw on cultural trauma theory to examine the ways state-founding political elites interpret their election losses. We show that such elites commemorate the loss by employing narratives that depict them as victims of unjust political processes, and simultaneously provide them with a sense of moral superiority. This enduring self-conception hinders subsequent efforts to draw new supporters or to change political strategies. We demonstrate this process using two empirical cases: the Israeli socialist Zionists and Turkish secular republicans, both of whom dominated their respective nations for decades until they were ousted through democratic elections. We suggest that cultural trauma theory can illuminate the reasons for some of the political deadlocks that shape newly-founded democracies’ policies.
One policy analysis based on this project is available on ResetDOC: “Why faltering democracies need strong opposition parties: Lessons from Turkey.”
+ UNEASY SETTLEMENTS: REPARATION POLITICS AND THE MEANINGS OF MONEY IN THE ISRAELI WITHDRAWAL FROM GAZA
Negotiations about reparations tend to take the language of interests and to deal primarily with monetary compensation for disadvantaged groups. In such proceedings, aggrieved claimants are likely to make a variety of claims about the use of money to represent their experience, ranging from demands for increased compensation to rejections of the entire process altogether. The article draws attention to the communicative functions of money in the reparation process. It claims that actors may grudgingly agree to attach a monetary value to what they hold sacred, but simultaneously strive to preserve their sense of self-worth and to elicit identification by raising moral critiques about the use of fiscal logic. To exemplify, the article focuses on the 2005 removal of Jewish-Israeli settlers from Israeli-occupied territories. It shows that settlers indeed demanded to be compensated fiscally for their lost property. At the same time, it shows that they raised objections to the use of fiscal logic in representing their experience and offered alternate logics of evaluation. The settlers resisted shame and devaluation through such competing logics, demanding that the state reaffirm a positive and embracing relationship with them despite its decision to evict them.
One policy brief related to this article is available on the Scholars Strategy Network website: "Israeli Settlers Evicted from Occupied Areas Want Community Affirmation along with Compensation", SSN Key Findings, November 2013.
+ Trauma Construction and Moral Restriction: The Ambiguity of the Holocaust for Israel (with Jeffrey C. Alexander)
In: Narrating Trauma: On the Impact of Collective Suffering. Edited by Ron Eyerman, Jeffrey C. Alexander and Elizabeth Breese, 107-132. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers 2011.
Read the full paper at this link.
The legendary status of the Holocaust as a sacred evil has inspired international human rights law, new restrictions on national sovereignty, and newly powerful moral strictures against ethnic and racial cleansing. Yet, even as this markedly universalizing construction became ever more deeply institutionalized in Western Europe and North America, the Holocaust came to be configured in a radically particularistic manner in Israel and the Middle East. This chapter traces the drastically different trajectories the Holocaust memory took for the Israeli right-wing, the Israeli left-wing, and their Arab neighbors. For Arab nations neighboring the new Jewish nation, for occupied Palestinians inside Israel or in exile, and for radical Islamicists the world wide, the Holocaust’s reality was fiercely challenged and the extraordinary nature of Jewish trauma ridiculed and denied. Meanwhile, inside the boundaries of the Jewish state, religiously conservative and politically right-wing Zionists came to understand the Holocaust as a tragedy that was unique to the Jewish people, not as a tragedy of our times. The Israeli version of the Holocaust trauma drama reinforced ethnic and religious boundaries rather than pointing to the necessity for transcending them. Where Israeli left-wing parties have historically attempted to draw on the Holocaust metaphor in extending sympathy toward the Palestinian plight, such attempts were often ill-received by mainstream Israeli society. These divergent paths the Holocaust trauma followed underscore the autonomy of the traumatic event from its referent and demonstrate the culturally variable routes its remembrance may take.
Reprints and translations
A translation to Greek appeared in Science and Society 28, no. 1 (2011-12): 21- 50.
This chapter was reprinted as “Holocaust and Trauma: Moral Restriction in Israel” in Trauma: A Social Theory by Jeffrey C. Alexander, 97-117. London: Polity, 2012.