Qualitative Sociology

, Volume 39, Issue 3, pp 267–286 | Cite as

Emotional Oppositions: The Political Struggle over Citizens’ Emotions

  • Dan M. KotliarEmail author


The last decades saw a growing interest in the ties between emotions and politics, but while governments’ attempts to impose different emotional styles were thoroughly documented, social movements’ responses to such attempts have so far been underexplored. This study aims to fill this gap by focusing on a political struggle over citizen’s emotions. The article concentrates on a struggle following the attempt of Israeli Parliament Members to shape the emotional responses of Israeli citizens to the Palestinian seminal disaster—The Nakba—by legislatively prohibiting public expressions of mourning and grief with its regard. Based on participant observation, this study follows a group of Israeli political activists—”Psychoactive”—in their struggle against the bill. As a political movement that consists of mental health experts, Psychoactive is shown to use its members’ professional means in order to oppose the bill and warn against the emotional style it seeks to dictate, and to simultaneously disseminate an oppositional emotional style that focuses on emotionally processing the Palestinian disaster. This emotional style is shown to have effects on the ways people feel about their history, their nationality and even their close family, and to paradoxically offer political empowerment to Palestinians by pathologizing their historical disaster. Thus, this article sees emotions as an active and highly contested political battleground, where emotional boundaries are actively drawn and redrawn by politicians and political movements.


Emotions Politics Social movements Israel Palestine 



I am deeply grateful to Carol Kidron for her valuable feedback throughout this research, and to The Department of Anthropology at the University of Haifa for their unparalleled support. I would also like to thank Chen Bar-Itzhak, Eldad Levy, Tair Karazi-Presler, Tamar Kaneh-Shalit, and the editor of Qualitative Sociology and the anonymous reviewers for their insightful comments on earlier drafts of this article. Lastly, I wholeheartedly thank Psychoactive for allowing me to actively observe their fascinating work.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Sociology and AnthropologyThe Hebrew University of JerusalemJerusalemIsrael

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