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.
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See Plamper (2010) for a discussion on the differences between Reddy’s “emotional regimes” and Rosenwein’s “emotional communities.”
The terms emotional regime (Reddy 2001), emotional community (Rosenwein 2002) and emotional style (Illouz 2007; Middleton 1989) are all very useful in pointing at the social bases of emotion and the power relations that constitute them. But as Gammerl (2012, 163) notes, the term “emotional style” implies a higher degree of fluidity and malleability, and is thus more useful in describing the political construction of emotions. Therefore, from this point on I will use the term emotional styles to describe “the experience, fostering, and display of emotions [that] oscillate between discursive patterns and embodied practices as well as between common scripts and specific appropriations” (Gammerl 2012, 163). See also Middleton (1989) and Illouz (2007).
Political scientists have also focused on emotions and global politics. Bar-Tal, Halperin and Rivera exhibited the role of emotions in creating, preserving and resolving international conflicts, and argued that collective emotions play a pivotal role in shaping individual and societal responses to conflict related events (Bar-tal et al. 2007). Saurette, writing about the impact of emotions on post 9/11 American policy, argued that the American attack on Iraq stemmed from a “global policy of counter-humiliation” (Saurette 2006); and Bleiker and Hutchison stressed the role of compassion and empathy in states’ reactions to global catastrophes (Bleiker and Hutchison 2008).
For a detailed description of Psychoactive’s first years, written by one of its founders, see Avissar (2008).
While humanitarian organizations tend to consist of mental health experts, and their actions are seen to have different political and moral implications (Rousseau et al. 2001; Hughes and Pupavac 2005; Fassin 2008), Psychoactive significantly differs from such organizations by the fact that its members explicitly link politics to emotions, and knowingly try to bring about political change.
At the time of my research, of the 300 activists in Psychoactive 240 were women, and out of the 40 most active members, only two or 3 were men. This difference can be explained by the fact that over 70 % of mental health practitioners in Israel are women (Israeli Ministry of Health 2012), and that Israeli Left wing activists also tend to be women. For a discussion on gender and Israeli left wing political movements see Helman and Rapoport (1997); Svirsky (2004); Kotef and Amir (2007).
All Hebrew excerpts were translated by the author.
I have used pseudonyms for all individuals mentioned in this article.
The Land Day (Yom al’Ard in Arabic) is marked on March 30 by Palestinians around the world, to commemorate the 1976 expropriation of vast tracts of Israeli-Palestinian land, and the subsequent killing of six Israeli-Palestinians in a demonstration that same year. The protests include a general strike and large demonstrations. As Wolfsfeld, Avraham and Aburaiya have shown, Israeli media tend to exaggeratedly depict these events as violent and threatening to Jewish Israelis (Wolfsfeld et al. 2010).
Like most of Psychoactive’s texts, the op-ed was presented by one of the members to the group’s mailing list, discussed, revised and finally approved by the members.
Psychoactive’s proposed emotional style is usually practiced by its members themselves. The group’s periodic meetings and particularly the discussions in the group’s mailing list are often characterized by a highly emotional discourse encouraging activists to openly express their feelings concerning different political incidents. Public events like the Nakba conference allow non-members to experiment with this discursive style, with the activists’ guidance.
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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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Kotliar, D.M. Emotional Oppositions: The Political Struggle over Citizens’ Emotions. Qual Sociol 39, 267–286 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-016-9334-7
- Social movements