Shapira, R. (2012) - “Becoming a Triple Stranger: Autoethnography of a Kibbutznik’s Long Journey to Discoveries of Researchers’ Faults.” In: H. Hazan and E. Herzog – Serendipity in Anthropological Research: The Nomadic Turn, pp. 93-108. Farnham (UK): Ashgate Press.
Chapter 6: Becoming a Triple Stranger: Autoethnography of a Kibbutznik’s Long Journey to Discoveries of Researchers’ Faults
I have recently concluded that my desire to solve the basic problems of my own society, kibbutz, led me to engage in a ‘long effort applied to oneself which [has converted] … one’s whole view of … the social world’ (Bourdieu 1990: 16), and this has exposed the true extent of kibbutz stratification and how this stratification was missed by all previous students (Shapira 2005). However, if the kibbutz is a venture in utopia (Buber 1958; Spiro 1955), it is plausible that its utopist intentions have been a major reason for my long and winding route to exposing students’ blindness to its social reality. An individual has many desires, and efforts to satisfy them depend on a variety of factors, while their relative importance and their effect on life choices change with age, experience, etc. Thus, if my abovementioned desire explains the long effort that converted my entire view of kibbutz, a major question is how this desire was born and how it retained its primacy for so long despite the stubbornness of kibbutz conservative social realities which frustrated it repeatedly. Considered by itself, my desire could barely explain the many choices I have made, while facing various constraints and opportunities which were decisive in shaping my career, leading to the exposure of a social reality which hundreds of students had failed to discern.
Although other questions of ethnography at home are relevant here (e.g., Peirano 1998), I cannot explore them for reasons of space. Using Bourdieu’s concepts, I investigate how my habitus, the capitals I have accumulated and the social fields in which I acted, caused a departure from both conventional managerial and academic careers, and led me to persevere with efforts at innovative problem-solving and in the search for better understanding of social reality in order to find new solutions, leading to major discoveries. I find that my unconventional career is explained by an early habitus of academic prowess and technical innovativeness, and by accumulation of cultural capital as an activist and manager which enhanced my ambitions to solve major problems of my society, ultimately leading to combining careers. Multiple careers taught me lessons which conventional ones do not teach, alerted me to unstudied problems, and encouraged their study. This enabled me to find answers that other students had missed. However, my innovativeness estranged conservative leaders and my findings antagonized the kibbutz scientific coalition (e.g., Collins 1975: ch. 9), while other academics did not like my leaning towards applied research, making me a triple stranger whose work could have been helpful to many audiences had it been published, read and used, but which was not. Moreover, estrangement caused career mistakes which prolonged the route to discoveries by minimizing feedback from colleagues, which could have helped my thinking, publishing and gaining recognition. Combining home anthropology and efforts at reform of my own society proved scientifically fruitful, but also very problematic in career terms, social terms and scientific impact of findings.
Early Habitus of Academic Prowess and Technical Innovativeness
Looking back at my kibbutz childhood (1940s) and youth (1950s), I can discern major ambitions which habituated preference for gaining competence and seeking innovation. One was academic ability: I was almost always the best student in my class, and was very disappointed even with a mark of 97 on an exam because I was used to getting 100%. Another area of great interest was machines: From the age of four, I designed and built tiny tractors, trucks, combines and other agricultural machinery made of punched metal parts, shafts, wheels and screws of an English-made Meccano toy. Later, as a teenager, I was fond of operating agricultural machinery, and while in the army, I liked tank driving. However, in high-school, my main interest was in Marxist literature, in accord with the leftist ideology of Kibbutz Artzi Federation (hereafter KA; Shapira 2008) to which my kibbutz, Gan Shmuel, belonged. As a promising ideologist in an ideological culture, soon after finishing army service, I was chosen as youth instructor of the KA in Haifa, and was involved in political campaigns of KA’s party, Mapam, there.
After two years, I returned to Gan Shmuel and continued my activism, both on the kibbutz and in the adjacent town, in addition to participating in kibbutz committees. I was chosen as delegate to KA conventions, as editor of the local newsletter and as head of the political-ideological committee. While this encouraged my activism, it soon brought chagrin as I confronted conservatism and problematic democracy in many kibbutz sectors, including the plant where I worked and became a department manager. My activism was encouraged due to a social vacuum: Most members chose inactivity in the wake of KA barren leftist politics of USSR admiration even after Khrushchev’s exposure of Stalin’s dictatorship horrors and the brutal suppression of Hungarian democracy in 1956. Leftism bolstered the power and camouflaged the conservatism of KA oligarchic old-guard, which dominated by curtailing democracy, promoting and privileging loyalists, and suppressing critics and innovators, causing their sidetracking and exiting (ibid: chs 10–11), in accord with Michels’s (1959) ‘Iron Law of Oligarchy’ and Hirschman’s Exit, Voice and Loyalty (1970). I did not understand it at the time, but discerned that Marxist answers to kibbutz problems were futile, and I asked the Education Committee to study sociology at university, hoping it would help me find acceptable solutions.
Unconventional Choice of Sociology and Utopian Hopes
This choice frustrated my parents and workmates in the plant who hoped I would study engineering in accord with the plant’s needs and my success as a department manager. They tried to change my mind, and sent me to a five-month intensive industrial management course at Ruppin College. I enjoyed it but insisted on sociology which was deemed ‘non-functional’, and was barely legitimate in this era on kibbutzim which usually financed only ‘functional’ studies like this course or other applied studies. ‘Non-functional’ studies were allowed and financed only for a few high-status veteran KA functionaries, disabled members, etc. In order to lessen animosity and receive consent, I continued managing the department and studied largely during the evenings.
This prevented excelling at university as I had in high-school, but that did not bother me as I did not aim at an academic career, but only at better understanding of my society in order to solve its problems. I missed major facts that would have thwarted my hopes, facts which were ignored by kibbutz literature: The kibbutz field, with some 150,000 participants, was dominated by conservative, veteran oligarchs who headed large federative organizations (hereafter FOs) like KA leaders (Shapira 2008: chs 2–8). A kibbutz was usually dominated behind the scenes by a few members who after being its managers became FO heads or functionaries loyal to such heads, who used their prestigious jobs, privileges that symbolized high status and other intangible capitals gained in FOs for patronage over short-term younger local officers who aspired to FO jobs (ibid: chs 12–17). Overcoming the conservatism of these entrenched oligarchies, which was the prime source of the problems I saw in Gan Shmuel and which blocked their solution, was a formidable task, requiring much more than understanding and creating new solutions, but I could not know this from reading kibbutz literature that ignored this reality.
According to Wallerstein (2004: 15) ‘We must recognize that scientific choices are informed by values and intents, as much as by knowledge and efficient causes. We need to incorporate utopistics into the social sciences’. Unknowingly that understanding local problems and proposing new solutions based on this knowledge would not help without elimination of FO oligarchies, I decided to study sociology and psychology, but the latter was quite unhelpful; political science was required to understand the kibbutz field which resembled a mini-state (Lanir 1990). I was a good student, though not as good as I could have been, had I aimed at an academic career and stopped investing my efforts in developing my department. No one suggested such a career, since no one knew how essential it would be for coping with problems which were graver than any member imagined. During my last year of BA studies, I was chosen head of the kibbutz members’ Welfare Committee, and due to the department’s success, as soon as I received my BA, I was nominated as production manager at the age of 30, an honour I could not defer. This was aimed at both enhancing production and suppressing my social activism, which almost succeeded: I became immersed in the promotion of productivity by innovation, and was successful: production doubled with only a marginal addition of manpower and profitability soared. However, like kibbutz members and its students I believed in rotatzia, periodic managerial succession which supposedly prevented oligarchy (Leviatan 1978), but in fact enhanced it: FO heads violated rotatzia by their ample power which was enhanced by rotatzia’s weakening of kibbutz managers and FO functionaries. Hence, I left the job after three years. Had I studied political science instead of psychology, I would have delved into the kibbutz power structure and would have exposed the rotatzia bluff, understanding that it enhancing oligarchy. In that case, I might have stayed on the job, succeeded more and advanced to be plant manager, a power position which would have enabled me to introduce reforms.
Soon after, I was offered a promotion to kibbutz chief economic officer, but I rejected this offer and lost another opportunity to advance to a power position from which I could have introduced reforms had I known the true causes of kibbutz main problems, those which I untangled only two decades later by summing up my ethnographies. However, had I accepted this offer and furthered my managerial career, I could not have exposed kibbutz research mistakes which bolstered the conservatism of kibbutz leaders. Like many previous radicals, I would have allowed minor innovations to solve pressing problems, but not career advance and major innovations that would have threatened hegemony of the old-guard; sooner or later I would have left kibbutz frustrated like many others (Shapira 2001, 2008: chs 11–15).
Marginalization in all Organizations
I opted for MA studies in social anthropology as I still felt that my society’s problems required intelligent solutions. Once more I did it largely in the evenings while being in charge of the plant’s new department, missing only two days a week from work. It gained me kibbutz approval, but marginalized me further in the plant, preventing major innovations in the department. One engineer asked: ‘Are you an industrialist or a sociologist?’ I saw no reason to leave office without any competent successor in the offing, and continued to manage the department even when, toward completion of my MA studies, I became a part-time research fellow of the Kibbutz Research Institute. This was a major mistake: At the age of 37 it marginalized me in the plant, the Institute and the academy, barring career advance in any of them, just as Izraeli (1982) explained how part-time work prevented women’s promotion in organizations. In each of them I was suspected of being committed to the other; hence, I was not offered any job/task which might have enhanced my career. No one alerted me to the price I was paying, since I was very productive in both the Institute and the plant, while in the academy my teachers awaited my MA thesis, which was deferred for a year because the Institute denied me the month’s leave I needed to write it, as the Institute evaded FOs in accord with kibbutz leaders efforts to conceal FOs’ quasi-capitalistic culture (Shapira 2005).
At the Institute, I did the arduous fieldwork of research surveys which enhanced careers of seniors (Platt 1976), while I became disillusioned with this type of research as a tool for solving kibbutz problems. However, as I did not yet grasp how surveys crippled students’ abilities to understand kibbutz, I continued at the Institute for five years; besides its major studies I undertook applied ethnographic studies of 20 kibbutz plants which helped Ph.D. study of an FO plant (Shapira 1979, 1980, 1982). However, due to my marginalization and being so busy, I missed how kibbutz scientific coalition, led by functionalist sociologists of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University (Ram 1995), collaborated with old-guard efforts to conceal FOs’ anti-kibbutz culture by not studying FOs, while I needed tools of political sociology to expose the role of this culture in bolstering old-guard’s power and standing. Had I turned to this discipline, I might have discovered this collaboration much earlier and left the Institute to find an academic job that would give me independence. However, in such a case, I would not have conducted the applied ethnographic studies and their lessons would not have informed my Ph.D. study.
Further Career Mistakes, Further Marginalization
The further study of the same FO plant I had studied for an MA, for my Ph.D. dissertation, was scientifically fruitful, untangled its social processes and resulted in an analysis which all my studies and readings ever since have proven correct. My work was illuminating while preceding many authors who have sought to explain organizational trust (e.g., Kramer and Cook 2004). From a career point of view, however, one mistake was the minimal efforts to publicize my MA findings, and an even worse mistake was continuing at the Institute despite its objection to my FO research. Continuation suited the expectations of my family and fellow kibbutz members as I also continued the plant part-time job, but it prevented my gaining recognition and furthering research needed to understand kibbutz society. I should have become an assistant to a professor who, besides mentoring my Ph.D., would have helped my academic advance by advising participation in conferences and publication.
I left the Institute when I received a Ford Foundation scholarship to write my Ph.D. dissertation and I submitted it in 1982, but instead of seeking academic job I returned to manage another plant department and waited for two and a half years for Tel Aviv University’s dissertation ratification, with no change. This extra long period clearly signalled disrespect or even levity due to my marginality. It might have also signalled animosity to my mentor, Professor Emanuel Marx. However, had I been a university employee as an assistant and had frequently met my abusers, it would have been harder to defer ratification for so long, while I would have had a better chance for post-doctoral study abroad and for enlarging my network of academic relations, something implausible at the age of 44 with only a few academic connections.
Frustrations: Hebrew Publication Efforts and Unwanted Teachings
While waiting for ratification, in the evenings I wrote articles on my findings which kibbutz journals turned down, as they exposed the ugly face of FO mismanagement and oligarchic rule; only the journal of young Mapam activists published two short ones. Academic journals also rejected my articles, presumably due to the animosity of the dominant kibbutz scientific coalition whose failures I exposed, although at the time I did not realize it. Thus, I published only in a half-academic economics journal and a non-academic one. Estrangement from the academic community helped missing Collins’ (1975: ch. 9) explanation of such coalitions; hence I did not know who thwarted my publication efforts and why, and I did not attempt to publish abroad. Then I made another major mistake: I turned down the only university job I have ever been offered, as it required leaving the kibbutz for the Negev Research Institute of Ben-Gurion University in the far south. The main reason was that I did not yet grasp how well-fortified the conservative kibbutz establishment was due to collaboration with this scientific coalition (Shapira 2005). I believed that if I published my findings in a book, my critique would move kibbutz officers to reform mismanaged FOs. Only later did I learn that my hope was doomed; kibbutz officers sought advance to FO jobs, rather than any reform of FO heads’ conservatism (Shapira 2008: chs 6–8).
With Ph.D. ratification, I left the plant to become a lecturer at Ruppin College. This helped my efforts to turn the dissertation into a Hebrew book, but was disappointing academically as my colleagues were uninterested in FOs. Hence, I lacked feedback which could have benefited my book. Secondly, I tried to teach FO mismanagement and other faults of kibbutz elites to young officers who sought diplomas in order to join these elites and receive their privileges, those which I criticized as curbing FOs’ efficiency and effectiveness. In addition, my book’s timing was unfortunate: The kibbutz debt crisis estranged the Israeli public from kibbutzim; thus, a book about kibbutz received minimal attention, while in kibbutzim it was not read either, as it seemed irrelevant to their grave problems since it dealt with a specific FO’s problems which seemed marginal in the crisis. The kibbutz establishment banned publicity of the book in its newspapers, and my respected publisher, on the verge of financial collapse, did little to publicize it. Had I written in English, my chances of publication and of being read were better as, at that time, international academic interest in kibbutz was considerable. However, due to my kibbutz schooling, my English writing ability was poor, while I incorrectly believed in the probable impact of a Hebrew book.
Four Kibbutz Ethnographies and Failed Local Change Efforts
In 1986, I forsook efforts to publish Hebrew articles, both due to failures and to the realization that, at age 46 no university would give me a lecturing job even if I had published extensively. I opted for further kibbutz understanding with an ethnographic study of a large veteran successful kibbutz, and, to my surprise, it resulted in publications in academic journals (Shapira 1990a; 1990b) and a textbook chapter (Shepher and Shapira 1992). Thus, I continued ethnographies of three more kibbutzim, though sparing myself some work by returning to two kibbutzim previously studied by other ethnographers (Fadida 1972; Topel 1979). I studied a third kibbutz by participating in a large research project headed by a professor whose book I had positively reviewed.
Between ethnographies I also studied the exceptional radical KA activist Mordechay Shenhabi (1900–83) as it suited my habitus: Shenhabi, like me, preferred the intrinsic rewards of gaining competence by studying hardest problems and solving them creatively for the common good. He remained unknown by most KA members even after having been the source of major innovations because he was suppressed by conservative leaders who feared his ascendance. However, it took me a year of interviewing many who helped him and reading some of the thousands of documents he had left to understand that his suppression had been part of KA leaders’ oligarchic rule. KA archives, which helped with my interviews, received my material and enabled David Zait (2005) to use it in Shenhabi’s biography with minimal credit to me, another sign of my marginalization.
In 1991, as I was finishing ethnographic fieldwork, winds of change permeated my socially conservative Kibbutz Gan Shmuel. I felt that the time was ripe for solving some of its problems by innovation, and agreed to head the nominations committee, and then a team aimed at saving energy, which had become costlier and with considerable waste. In both roles I tried to introduce major innovations, which cannot be detailed here. Similar innovations have been successfully used by other kibbutzim, and I proposed their adoption with adaptations to Gan Shmuel’s needs. Alas, they were rejected, not because they were wrong, but because they were right. For instance, my 1993 solution for the problem of car use was introduced in 2006 by loyalists of local notables, without crediting my proposal of 1993. As I was not such a loyalist, notables defeated my innovations in 1992–93 to defend their own power. Only after failures, when reading my student study, The Decision-Making Stratum of Kibbutz Tzidon (fictitious name; Dangoor 1994), I grasped that in Gan Shmuel like in Tzidon and other kibbutzim, power elites of patrons and their loyal clients ruled. However, their power and standing were insecure: patrons’ power was unofficial and loyal clients who were formal managers were subject to rotatzia; hence, they defended power by suppressing innovators (Shapira 1995a, 1995b, 2008).
The Turn to English Writing and its Failures
I then realized that the summary of my 27 case studies and ethnographies had created a very different paradigm of kibbutz society than that of current literature. As my articles were rejected by Hebrew journals, and considering that I saw no effect of my 1987 book, I turned to publishing English articles. However, except for a congress of anthropologists in Zagreb in 1988, I did not lecture on my findings at international conferences and got no feedback or ties with colleagues that could facilitate publication. My college did not finance trips abroad while my strained relations with Gan Shmuel notables barred the possibility of my kibbutz financing such trips either.
A trip abroad was essential to get feedback that would alert me to omissions and mistakes I made while interpreting what I had seen in the field. This was impossible in Israel where only two researchers, Israel Shepher and Gideon M. Kressel, defied the dominance of kibbutz scientific coalition and were marginalized like me. Trips abroad were also essential to establish connections with scientists in order to make the right decision about the type of publications: articles or a book. I erred in writing articles which exposed only a part of researchers’ mistaken kibbutz paradigm, and worse still, they were mostly rejected because reviewers were coalition members, as indicated by reviews I received. Only in 1998 did I find financing for participation in the International Communal Studies Association Conference in Amsterdam where it became obvious that only a book could expose, explain and prove my different kibbutz paradigm.
However, without more international conferences I had only a handful of colleagues to review the book drafts and manuscript. This prolonged my writing to five years (1998–2003). Nevertheless, by participation in Israeli conferences and international ones held in Israel I received some feedback on the book drafts which helped me amend it to answer questions raised by expert readers. However, the dominant coalition managed to prevent its publication by two major publishers who intended to publicize it. I found a New York publisher for the book in 2003, but soon felt animosity to my manuscript by a reviewer who wrote a baseless, ill-intended critique. As my publisher also received a positive review, she sought a third reviewer; it took her half a year to find one, and then it took eight months for her/him to react in this way:
I’ve read the manuscript but not had time to write up my report. I can tell you now though that whilst the manuscript is interesting (and very controversial), in order to be published it would require a significant rewrite. At the moment, analytically, it’s far too unfocused; stylistically it’s far too messy; structurally, it’s far too, well, unstructured.
Some of this critique may be correct, but such a few words after so long a time and so many violations of the promised review timetable, such general assertions without a review report and with no detailed explanation, for instance, of what rewriting was required, makes the reviewer suspect of barely reading the manuscript which at least, stylistically, was good, having been shaped by a proficient English editor. The publisher felt that her efforts to get a review that would help to edit the manuscript had failed and abandoned my book, and it seemed that other publishers, who later did the same, also suffered from this problem. One sign of this was that none of those publishers, whose rejection was accompanied by compliments to the manuscript and a wish for my success elsewhere, attached a review that could help me, unlike some journal editors who attached reviews when rejecting my articles with compliments for their ideas.
Other Unsuccessful Publication Efforts
In the meantime, I resumed efforts to publish in Hebrew, but they were unsuccessful as far as the aim of impacting kibbutz research was concerned. I translated and enlarged one of the manuscript chapters into a Hebrew article which I submitted to a respected journal and was treated as an inferior: It was accepted, but for publication two years in the future unless I shortened it into a half length, although its length was standard. I mistakenly agreed, despite doubts about whether its message would survive so drastic a cut. I did not suspect, however, that after making this effort, the editors would change it further, including its title, without my consent (Shapira 1999). It seemed that they did this, guessing that I could do little about such treatment without ties in major academic circles.
I was given quite similar treatment recently by another Hebrew journal, but in this case, after I shortened my article by a quarter with the help of two veteran professors, I did not agree to further shortening and referred it elsewhere, though to no avail as yet. I also translated the 2001 English article into Hebrew, with minor changes and submitted it to major journals, but the fact that it had been published by a respected journal, Sociological Inquiry, did not help; it was rejected.
Conclusions and Discussion
The general picture is clear: My triple estrangement due to efforts to combine specializations and careers in order to solve major problems of my society without violating egalitarian principles has been my Achilles heel, while this combination has also been to my scientific advantage, enabling major discoveries. I mistakenly stuck to this unconventional combination even after realizing that most kibbutz research was grossly mistaken and that only independent research would enable rectification. I missed the fact that my part-time jobs had marginalized me in the kibbutz, at the Kibbutz Research Institute and in academia. This can be explained by:
1. missing the causal connection between part-time jobs and marginalization;
2. not knowing about the collaboration of the dominant scientific coalition with the kibbutz establishment that evaded FOs study, leading me to violate researchers’ conventions and to suffer repression;
3. not learning Gan Shmuel’s power structure, missing dominance of conservative patrons and their loyalists who opposed my innovations, wasting my time and energies to no avail.
On the one hand, my opponents failed: I furthered my research, exposed the field’s power structure and the dynamics behind its egalitarian and democratic façade, and disproved the mistaken analysis by both the dominant coalition and critical students such as Ben-Rafael (1997) who also did not study FOs and missed their pivotal role in the kibbutz field. My publications proved that without FO study, this field is inexplicable, since FOs became Trojan horses of capitalist society, introduced its values and practices into kibbutzim, and eventually ruined their culture and then their profitability. On the other hand, my opponents succeeded: Though many of my findings were published and the rest would be published sooner or later, I did not receive recognition for them, nor were they read and used by the many audiences for whom they could have contributed decisive inputs, especially kibbutzim. There is a Jewish saying ‘There is no prophet in his own city,’ and my case is confirmation: I failed to be a ‘prophet’ whose teachings impacted kibbutzim.
However, my case proves that home anthropology can advance social science beyond adding authenticity (Narayan 1993), to the point that it transforms a whole field of study. Marx (1985: 147) pointed out that ‘[t]he hardest part of [ethnographic] research is the discerning the context of phenomena;’ while outside ethnographers failed to discern how the FOs capitalistic-like context shaped the kibbutz field structure, dynamics and practices. Home anthropologists Kressel (1974, 1983), Topel (1979) and Shepher (1980, 1983), guided by critical Tel Avivian sociologists and anthropologists (Ram 1995), discerned many of these capitalistic practices, helping my exposure of the rest by studying FOs under similar guidance and then kibbutzim with Professor Marx help, ultimately leading to comprehension of the field. In accord with Hazan’s (1995) reiteration that texts and their syntax have to be explained in their contexts, I explained kibbutz culture by the impact of FO context. While my nativity engendered some minor errors which slightly prolonged my route to discoveries, the major mistakes, which prolonged this route by many years and minimized the impact of my findings, were largely independent of nativity. They were mainly engendered by two factors:
1. My belief in the amending of kibbutz democracy and egalitarianism by combining two careers without knowing the formidable task I was assuming, nor the price I would pay by triple marginalization that prevented accumulation of intangible and symbolic capitals needed to overcome the interference of the dominant scientific coalition.
2. Misunderstanding the power structure of the field and missing its researchers’ collaboration with leaders which I exposed after much study. Hence, I could not know who was impeding my efforts beforehand and how to cope with them effectively until quite recently.
Thus, most of this route to discovery was essential, while my nativity was the decisive factor in its success from a scientific point of view, encouraging perseverance and giving me ‘the profound intuitions gained from personal familiarity’ (Bourdieu 1988: 3). Had I opted early on for an academic career, I presumably would have become a high-status academic, but without the executive experience which led to the study of kibbutz plants and industrial FOs. There would have been no findings which disproved researchers’ belief in rotatzia, and no efforts to explain its impact on kibbutz management by four ethnographies. Moreover, as a ‘usual’ academic, it was unlikely that I would have carried out so many ethnographies which led me to discern researchers’ mistaken paradigm, since the academic rule of ‘publish or perish’ encourages capitalizing on minimum ethnographies by maximum publications. An ethnographer usually studies two-three communities/ tribes/organizations, to which s/he sometimes returns later (Marx 1985). With such a career, I would have missed the many insights I received from studying many kibbutzim and plants, with hundreds of grassroots informants. In addition, an academic’s high status deters her/him from involvement in low-status grass-root problem-solving efforts and learning from them, while with my mid-level status, I had no such problem. Furthermore, finishing my Ph.D. relatively late in life, prevented both post-doctoral studies and a university teaching position, while as a college lecturer, my career was largely independent of publishing and I therefore made more ethnographies.
Kibbutz activism, which hindered my academic advance, also helped, often directing me to the right questions, although it could not substitute for ethnographies which provided answers that were tested by more ethnographies. In addition, nativity helped me to enter kibbutzim and FOs, gaining members trust and encouraging their disclosure of privy information.
My case proves that home anthropology can be a major means to discovery, especially in cultures whose past transformative leaders (Burns 1978) had encouraged critical thinking and activism. In such cases, some young radical talents have habituses of preference for the intrinsic rewards of gaining competence and learning by coping with major social problems innovatively. Those who become social activists or academics involved in activism, or who support activism may learn how complex and recalcitrant such problems are (Heifetz 1995). Every new solution produces its drawbacks, so that they may choose ethnography to gain deeper understanding of problems and find new possibilities for better solutions that will overcome the limitations of extant ones. Since social fields are often oligarchic and conservative (Bourdieu 1984, 1988, 1996), as the kibbutz field became quite early, new solutions will mostly be rejected and many of the radical talents will abandon seeking solutions in favour of career concerns. However, if their efforts are rewarded by some successes and they maintain their expectations for greater successes, this will motivate perseverance, until the roots of mistakes which blocked radically better solutions are exposed and breakthrough achieved.
An example could be W.F. Whyte’s career which he concluded by recommending Participative Action Research which seeks a Social Theory for Action (1992). He has been leaning towards activism ever since 1937, when he was an economics student in Harvard and studied a Bostonian slum, producing landmark ethnography (1940). In accord with the above model, during this period, Roosevelt’s New Deal social climate encouraged seeking new solutions to social problems, and Whyte believed (1973: 281–3) that he could contribute to alleviating poverty by exposing how slum dwellers cope with it. This resembled my case, as Whyte turned to anthropology from another discipline for the same reason: belief in his own ability to help solve a major problem of his own society. Thus, in addition to the required habitus and encouragement of radicals by transformative leaders, a third factor of home anthropology which may lead to major discoveries, is the willingness of radicals to embark on unconventional careers of changing specializations/ disciplines. Such changes enable them to use early knowledge for later new specializations: My early technical interest was a major factor in my successful industrial management which enlightened the study of mismanaged plants, as Whyte’s economic knowledge helped ethnographies of workplaces, and his early learning of Italian helped him study cooperative cultures in its sister language, Spanish (Whyte and Whyte 1988). Multi-specialization accords Wallerstein’s (2004) call for the elimination of disciplinary barriers among the social sciences and the humanities (also: Peirano 1998: 123), while our cases point to the need for acquiring additional expertise types such as technological skills (as I did) or knowledge of languages (like Whyte). Thus, elimination of discipline barriers seems to be promoted by those who commence in one expertise/discipline and change to another, motivated by a desire to solve major public problems for which the first discipline/expertise is insufficient.
Are there plausible solutions that will prevent career mistakes like mine? As far as I can see, the prime solution might be coaching of young radicals by veterans. In fact, this is one of the advantages of patronage which also brings one of its drawbacks to mind: encouraging conservatism. However, I have found that, unlike usual patronage, coaching and patronising young radicals by veteran expert radicals encouraged youngsters’ innovation; as such veterans did not worry that the success of youngsters’ innovations would hurt their status (Shapira 1980; 2008: ch. 16). This often happens in academia, usually without formal rewards, although it takes up the coaching professors time and energy; hence, it is common only in advanced degrees or afterwards, when coaching rewards professors by collaborative publication. However, if my Tel Aviv University professors had been formally rewarded for coaching me during my first BA year, and had understood the goals of my studies, they presumably would have diverted me from psychology to political science which would have prevented some later mistakes and shortened the route to discoveries. Such coaching might have also prevented my later mistakes, continuing so long in the Kibbutz Research Institute despite realizing it being unhelpful, and continuing my part-time job in the plant instead of taking a university job which would have gained me relevant intangible capitals and could have prevented both the disrespectful treatment of my Ph.D. thesis, and my mistaken rejection of the offer for an academic job at the Negev Research Institute.
The other main solution I can see for preventing such career mistakes is more egalitarian and democratic workplace cultures because they are more innovative, encourage radicals and tend less to punish their unconventional career choices, career competition in such cultures is less intense and altruism is more common; so even without formal rewards for coaching of junior radicals, it happens often (Shapira 2008: ch. 16). In such cultures decision-making processes are more transparent; radicals can better target true conservative power-holders who block their innovation efforts, as well as their true allies (e.g., Freeman 1974), align themselves to the latter and make fewer career mistakes. Such cultures tend to be high-trust (Fox 1974; Shapira 2008); hence, knowledge and information are widely distributed. A radical can better understand participants’ behaviour and better forecast how his/her career choices will affect the success of activism, while in high-trust cultures, seniors are less worried that juniors’ successes due to innovation will diminish their status; so they encourage innovation (Dore 1973: ch. 9).
Finally, an essential problem is publication of discoveries made due to unconventional careers and nativity. This touches on another major problem, the limitation of dissemination of non-English written findings to which Peirano (1998: 121) has referred. More home ethnography which is more activism-oriented, and more ethnographers whose main thrust is local problems, means more non-English writing scholars aimed at local audiences, but who often discover solutions to universal problems. The problem of translation is marginal as against the problem of publication decision-making which is largely made by Anglo-Saxon elites whose interest decides what is publishable in view of what they grasp as interesting to English readers and what English-speaking reviewers prefer. This is bound to lead to major publication mistakes, and may cause an entire field of study to be mistakenly researched for sixty years, as was kibbutz. Early mistaken kibbutz ethnographies carried out by foreigners who ignored most FO effects on kibbutzim, received publicity in prestigious outlets due to approval by foreign reviewers who were remote from the field, and to the dominance of Anglo-American functionalist sociology. Lacking ‘the profound intuitions gained from personal familiarity’ (Bourdieu 1988: 3), these reviewers did not suspect that FOs were part and parcel of the kibbutz field; hence, they ratified mistaken publications (Shapira 2005, 2008). This was the decisive mistake which enabled the kibbutz scientific coalition to remain dominant for half a century, suppressing critics up to now.
This situation calls for a revision of ethnographic publication decision-making practices, whether book manuscripts or journal articles, to diminish suppression of critical radicals by dominant scientific coalitions. One way is the use of natural sciences practice: even if there is only one reviewer among three-four who approves a manuscript or an article, the reviewing process proceeds to additional reviewer/s to make sure a worthwhile work is not rejected. A second method is adding ‘native reviewers’ who are insiders in the language and culture of the native ethnographer and are familiar with the field he has studied, even though they hold lesser academic offices. This may help anthropology to change towards less Anglo-Saxon-ethnocentric publication decision-making. A third measure may be the removal of journals’ blind review process, making the names of authors, reviewers and associate editors public, along with reviewers’ recommendations, review cycles, and articles under review so that other colleagues can comment on articles, and an open archive of rejected articles, as Weber (1999) proposed from a long experience as editor and reviewer.
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