Skip to main content

Emotional Oppositions: The Political Struggle over Citizens’ Emotions

Abstract

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.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Notes

  1. 1.

    See Plamper (2010) for a discussion on the differences between Reddy’s “emotional regimes” and Rosenwein’s “emotional communities.”

  2. 2.

    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).

  3. 3.

    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).

  4. 4.

    See also Jasper (2011, 1412–1413), and Flam (2005).

  5. 5.

    For a detailed description of Psychoactive’s first years, written by one of its founders, see Avissar (2008).

  6. 6.

    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.

  7. 7.

    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).

  8. 8.

    For journalistic accounts of Nakba-Independence events see Inbari’s (2008) and Stromza-Kusnir (2010) reports.

  9. 9.

    All Hebrew excerpts were translated by the author.

  10. 10.

    I have used pseudonyms for all individuals mentioned in this article.

  11. 11.

    The Land Day (Yom alArd 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).

  12. 12.

    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.

  13. 13.

    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.

References

  1. Abu-Lughod, Lila. 1990. Shifting politics in bedouin love poetry. In Language and the politics of emotion, eds. Lila Abu-Lughod, and Catherine Lutz, 24–46. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Ahmed, Sara. 2004. The cultural politics of emotion. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Alexander, Jeffrey C. 2002. On the social construction of moral universals: The “holocaust” from war crime to trauma drama. European Journal of Social Theory 5(1): 5–85.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Avissar, Nissim. 2008. Psychotherapy and political activism: Examining the Israeli–palestinian case. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society 13(2): 163–174.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Bar-tal, Daniel, and Yona Teichman. 2005. Stereotypes and prejudice in conflict representations of Arabs in Israeli Jewish society. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  6. Bar-tal, Daniel, Eran Halperin, and Joseph de Rivera. 2007. Collective emotions in conflict situations: Societal implications. Journal of Social Issues 63(2): 441–460.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  7. Benski, Tova, and Lauren Langman. 2013. The effects of affects: The place of emotions in the mobilizations of 2011. Current Sociology 61(4): 525–540.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Bleiker, Roland, and Emma Hutchison. 2008. Fear no more: Emotions and world politics. Review of International Studies 34(S1): 115–135.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Braun, Virginia, and Victoria Clarke. 2006. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology 3(2): 77–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Breslau, Joshua. 2004. Cultures of trauma: Anthropological views of posttraumatic stress disorder in international health. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 28(2): 113–125.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Brown, Jessica A. 2014. Our national feeling is a broken one: Civic emotion and the holocaust in German citizenship education. Qualitative Sociology 37(4): 425–442.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. D’Aoust, Anne-Marie. 2014. Ties that bind? Engaging emotions, governmentality and neoliberalism: Introduction to the special issue. Global Society 28(3): 267–276.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Epp-Weaver, Alain. 2007. Remembering the Nakba in Hebrew: Return visits as the performance of a binational future. Holy Land Studies: A Multidisciplinary Journal 6(2): 125–144.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Fassin, Didier. 2008. The humanitarian politics of testimony: Subjectification through trauma in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Cultural Anthropology 23(3): 531–558.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  15. Fassin, Didier, and Richard Rechtman. 2009. The empire of trauma: An inquiry into the condition of victimhood. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  16. Flam, Helena. 1994. States and anti-nuclear movements. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Flam, Helena. 2005. Emotions’ map: A research agenda. In Emotions and social movements, eds. Helena Flam, and Debra King, 19–40. New York: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Flam, Helena, and Debra King. 2005. Emotions and social movements. New-York, NY: Routledge.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Foucault, Michel. 2005. The hermeneutics of the subject: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1981–1982. New York: Picador.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  21. Fox, Nick. 2015. Emotions, affect and the production of social life. The British Journal of Sociology 66(2): 301–318.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Frankish, Tarryn, and Jill Bradbury. 2012. Telling stories for the next generation: Trauma and nostalgia. Peace and Conflict: Journal of Peace Psychology 18(3): 294–306.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  23. Friedman-Peleg, Keren, and Yehuda C. Goodman. 2010. From posttrauma intervention to immunization of the social body: Pragmatics and politics of a resilience program in Israel’s periphery. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 34(3): 421–442.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Gammerl, Benno. 2012. Emotional styles – Concepts and challenges. Rethinking History 16(2): 161–175.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Good, Delvecchio Mary-Jo, and Byron Good. 1988. Ritual, the state, and the transformation of emotional discourse in Iranian society. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 12(1): 43–63.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Goodwin, Jeff, and Jasper James M. 2006. Emotions and social movements. In Handbook of the sociology of emotions, eds. Jan E Stets, and Jonathan H. Turner, 611–635. New York: Springer.

  27. Goodwin, Jeff, James M. Jasper, and Francesca Polletta. 2001. Passionate politics: Emotions and social movements. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  28. Gould, Deborah B. 2009. Moving politics: Emotion and ACT UP’s fight against AIDS. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  29. Heikkinen, Hannu .L.T., Huttunen Rauno, and Kakkori Leena. 2000. And this story is true…: On the problem of narrative truth. Paper presented to ECER, The University of Edinburgh. September. http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00002351.htm. Accessed 20 May 2016.

  30. Helman, Sara, and Tamar Rapoport. 1997. Women in black: Challenging Israel’s gender and socio-political orders. British Journal of Sociology 48(4): 681–700.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Hochschild, Arlie R. 1979. Emotion work, feeling rules, and social structure. American Journal of Sociology 85(3): 551–575.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Hodgkin, Katharine, and Susannah Radstone. 2003. Contested pasts: The politics of memory. London: Routledge.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  33. Hughes, Caroline, and Venessa Pupavac. 2005. Framing post conflict societies: International pathologisation of Cambodia and the post-Yugoslav states. Third World Quarterly 26(6): 873–889.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Illouz, Eva. 1998. Consuming the romantic utopia: Love and the cultural contradictions of capitalism. Berkeley and London: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Illouz, Eva. 2007. Cold intimacies: The making of emotional capitalism. Cambridge, UK: Polity.

    Google Scholar 

  36. Inbari, Itamar. 2008. Happy/sad independence/Nakba day (Hebrew). NRG. http://www.nrg.co.il/online/1/ART1/728/937.html. Accessed 20 May 2016.

  37. Israeli Ministry of Health. 2012. Manpower in mental health professions (Hebrew). http://www.health.gov.il/publicationsfiles/manpower2012.pdf. Accessed 20 May 2016.

  38. Jasper, James M. 2011. Emotions and social movements: Twenty years of theory and research. Annual Review of Sociology 37(1): 285–303.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. Jenkins, Janis H. 1991. The state construction of affect: Political ethos and mental health among Salvadorian refugees. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 15: 139–165.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Katriel, Tamar. 2004. Dialogic moments: From soul talks to talk radio in Israeli culture. Detroit, Michigan: Wayne State University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. Kidron, Carol A. 2003. Surviving a distant past: A case study of the cultural construction of trauma descendant identity. Ethos 31(4): 513–544.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  42. Kidron, Carol A. 2009. Toward an ethnography of silence. Current Anthropology 50(1): 5–27.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Kidron, Carol A. 2012. Alterity and the particular limits of universalism. Current Anthropology 53(6): 723–754.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Klatch, Rebecca E. 2004. The underside of social movements: The effects of destructive affective ties. Qualitative Sociology 27(4): 487–509.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  45. Kleinman, Arthur. 1988. The illness narratives: Suffering, healing, and the human condition. New-York: Basic Books.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Knesset. 2011. Budgetary foundations bill, Amendment No. 40 (Hebrew). http://www.knesset.gov.il/privatelaw/data/18/3/315_3_2.rtf. Accessed 20 May 2016.

  47. Kotef, Hagar, and Merav Amir. 2007. (en)gendering checkpoints: Checkpoint watch and the repercussions of intervention. Signs 32(4): 973–996.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Lupton, Deborah. 1998. The emotional self: A sociocultural exploration. London: Sage Publications Ltd..

    Google Scholar 

  49. Lutz, Catherine A. 1988. Unnatural emotions: Everyday sentiments on a Micronesian atoll and their challenge to Western theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Lutz, Catherine A., and Lila Abu-Lughod. 1990. Language and the politics of emotion. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Lutz, Catherine A., and Geoffrey M. White. 1986. The anthropology of emotions. Annual Review of Anthropology 15(1): 405–436.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  52. Middleton, Dewight R. 1989. Emotional style: The cultural ordering of emotions. Ethos 17(2): 187–201.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  53. Miller, Alex, Fania Kirsenbaum, Robert Ilatov, Anastasia Michaeli, Moshe Matalon, David Rotem, Daniel Ayalon, and Orly Levy-Abekasis. 2009. Independence day bill, amendment - a prohibition of marking Israel’s independence day, or the foundation of the state of Israel, as a day of mourning (Hebrew). Israeli Knesset. http://www.knesset.gov.il/privatelaw/data/18/458.rtf. Accessed 20 May 2016.

  54. Morris, Benny. 1987. The birth of the Palestinian refugee problem, 1947–1949. Cambridge: Cambridge Middle East Library.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Obeyesekere, G. 1985. Depression, Buddhism, and the work of culture in Sri Lanka. In culture and depression: Studies in the anthropology and cross-cultural psychiatry of affect and disorder, eds. by Arthur Kleinman and Byron J. Good, 134–152. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

  56. Ost, David. 2004. Politics as the mobilization of anger: Emotions in movements and in power. European Journal of Social Theory 7(2): 229–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Pantti, Mervi, and Liesbet van Zoonen. 2006. Do crying citizens make good citizens? Social Semiotics 16(2): 205–224.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Pantti, Mervi, and Jan Wieten. 2005. Mourning becomes the nation: Television coverage of the murder of Pim Fortuyn. Journalism Studies 6(3): 301–313.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  59. Pappe, Ilan. 1997. Post-Zionist critique on Israel and the Palestinians: Part I – The academic debate. Journal of Palestine Studies 26(2): 29–41.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  60. Perry, Elizabeth J. 2002. Moving the masses: Emotion work in the chinese revolution. Mobilization: An International Journal 7(2): 111–128.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Plamper. 2010. The history of emotions: An interview with William Reddy, Barbara Rosenwein, and Peter Stearns. History and Theory 49(2): 237–265.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Plotkin-Amrami, Galia. 2008. From “Russianness” to “Israeliness” through the landscape of the soul: Therapeutic discourse in the practice of immigrant absorption in Israel with ‘Russian’ adolescents. Social Identities 14(6): 739–761.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  63. Psychoactive. 2010. What is Psychoactive (Hebrew). http://www.psychoactive.org.il/site/detail/detail/detailDetail.asp?detail_id=1287144. Accessed 2 May 2015.

  64. Ram, Uri. 2009. Ways of forgetting: Israel and the obliterated memory of the Palestinian Nakba. Journal of Historical Sociology 22(3): 366–395.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Reddy, William M. 2001. The navigation of feeling: A framework for the history of emotions. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Book  Google Scholar 

  66. Rosaldo, Renato. 1980. Ilongot Headhunting 1883–1974: A study in society and history. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  67. Rosenwein, Barbara H. 2002. Worrying about emotions in history. The American Historical Review 107(3): 821–845.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  68. Rosenwein, Barbara H. 2006. Emotional communities in the early middle ages. New York: Cornell Univ Press.

    Google Scholar 

  69. Rousseau, Cécile, Maria Morales, and Patricia Foxen. 2001. Going home: Giving voice to memory strategies of young Mayan refugees who returned to Guatemala as a community. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry 25(2): 135–168.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. Ruiz-Junco, Natalia. 2013. Feeling social movements: Theoretical contributions to social movement research on emotions. Sociology Compass 7(1): 45–54.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. Sa’di, Ahmad H., and Lila Abu-Lughod. 2007. Nakba: Palestine, 1948, and the claims of memory. New-York: Columbia University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  72. Saurette, Paul. 2006. You dissin me? Humiliation and post 9/11 global politics. Review of International Studies 32(3): 495–522.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. Scharf, Miri. 2007. Long-term effects of trauma: Psychosocial functioning of the second and third generation of holocaust survivors. Development and Psychopathology 19(2): 603–622.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  74. Scheer, Monique. 2012. Are emotions a kind of practice (and is that what makes them have a history)? A Bourdieuian approach to understanding emotion. History and Theory 51: 193–220.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. Scheff, Thomas J. 1977. The distancing of emotion in ritual. Current Anthropology 18(3): 483–505.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. Scheff, Thomas J., and Suzanne M. Retzinger. 1991. Emotions and violence: Shame and rage in destructive conflicts. Massachusetts: Lexington Books.

    Google Scholar 

  77. Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 1992. Death without weeping: The violence of everyday life in Brazil. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  78. Scheper-Hughes, Nancy. 2008. A talent for life: Reflections on human vulnerability and resilience. Ethnos 73(1): 25–56.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  79. Shapira, Anita. 2007. Hirbat Hiza: Between remembering and forgetting. In Benny Morris, ed. Making Israel, 81–123. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.

    Google Scholar 

  80. Silverman, David. 2006. Interpreting qualitative data: Methods for analyzing talk, text and interaction. London: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  81. Skeggs, Beverley. 2012. Feeling class: Affect and culture in the making of class relations. In The Wiley-Blackwell companion to sociology, ed. George Ritzer, 269–287. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  82. Stromza-Kusnir, Mirit. 2010. Nakba and Independence Day – In One Ceremony (Hebrew). Mynet. http://www.mynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-3873006,00.html. Accessed 7 May 2016.

  83. Svirsky, Gila. 2004. Local coalitions, global partners: The women’s peace movement in Israel and beyond. Signs 29(2): 543–550.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  84. van Dijk, Teun A. 1993. Principles of critical discourse analysis. Discourse & Society 4(2): 249–283.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  85. White, Geoffrey M. 1990. Moral discourse and the rhetoric of emotions. In Language and the politics of emotion, eds. Catherine A. Lutz, and Leila Abu-Lughod, 68–82. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  86. Whittier, Nancy. 2001. Emotional strategies: The collective reconstruction and display of oppositional emotions in the movement against child sexual abuse. In Passionate politics: Emotions and social movements, eds. Jeff Goodwin, James M. Jasper, and Francesca Polletta, 233–250. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press.

    Chapter  Google Scholar 

  87. Wolfsfeld, Gadi, Eli Avraham, and Issam Aburaiya. 2010. When prophesy always fails: Israeli press coverage of the Arab minority’s land day protests. Political Communication 17(2): 115–131.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  88. Young, Allan. 1995. The harmony of illusions: Inventing post-traumatic stress disorder. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

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.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Dan M. Kotliar.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

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

Download citation

Keywords

  • Emotions
  • Politics
  • Social movements
  • Israel
  • Palestine