This book problematizes activism as a globalized cultural formation that gives shape and meaning to grassroots organizations’ struggles for social and political change. It does so by exploring the cultural categories of speech and action – referred to as the ‘speech-action nexus’ - as they are constructed and evaluated in vernacular activist discourses. It argues that activism is marked by an ambivalent and tension-filled attitude towards language, whose use is viewed both as an essential form of action and as an emblem of the failure to act. This ambivalence is grounded in two competing ideologies of language – one that posits a speech vs action dualism (as encapsulated in the “Deeds not Words” slogan), and one that highlights the performative power of speech and the imperative to speak out. Defiant discourse, whose employment epitomizes the latter view, refers to speech that challenges dominant discourses through organized gestures of dissent in speaking truth to power and is designed to affect social reality through attempts to “change the discourse.” Addressing public discourses of soldierly dissent related to Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, the book explores draft-refusers’ and silence-breakers’ defiant discourse as a self-politicizing oppositional project that is accomplished through proclamations of dissent, witnessing, and meta-discursive accounts. These verbal modes, which are at once rooted in a local speech culture of straight talk and in a globalized culture of grassroots critique, insert defiant discourses into the public sphere. While these interventions are designed to affect public agendas by changing the social discourse in defiance of widespread silencing and marginalization, they remain vulnerable to a deep-seated distrust of language grounded in a speech vs. action binary.
Professor (Emerita)Tamar Katriel received her PhD from the department of Speech Communication at the University of Washington, Seattle in 1983. She has held a faculty position at the University Haifa, Israel, ever since. Her areas of teaching and research include the Ethnography of Communication, Intercultural Communication and Discourse Studies. She has been a visiting scholar in a number of American University, including the University of Pennsylvania, Northwester University, the University of Texas, Austin, Rutgers University, and Harvard University She is author of several books and a range of articles that appeared in Communication, Sociolinguitics, Anthropology, and Education journals.
The Borns JSP Faculty-Graduate Student Workshop Series is generously supported by the Melvin and Betty Cohn Jewish Studies Institute Fund.