The right to represent: Negotiating the meaning of military service in Israel

Oren Livio, University of Pennsylvania


Military service has long been identified as one of the prime signifiers of membership in the Israeli collective, and as such plays a central role in practices of civil inclusion and exclusion. Against the background of perceived changes in the Israel Defense Forces' status in Israeli society in recent years, this study examines the ways in which Israeli citizens from all sectors of society negotiate the meanings of military and national-civil service in Israel discursively and dialogically. The study is based upon a critical discourse analysis of 20 focus group discussions conducted in 2009-2010, as well as on the analysis of additional strategically selected texts that have achieved wide public circulation. The meanings of military service are examined as related to four interimplicated themes that emerged in discourse: perceptions of military service as an indicator of social normativeness, constructions of the relationship between service and psychological normalcy, ideas linking service to contribution to the collective community, and the ways in which service is associated with the civil, political, and social rights of citizenship. The role of discourse is discussed as simultaneously revealing dominant social meanings and the ways in which they are produced, sustained, and contested; constructing social identities and frameworks of cultural knowledge; and concealing underlying mythical structures that remain largely unaddressed as people focus more on the everyday experiences associated with the military's construction as a civilianized institution than on the military's involvement in the exercise of violence and the role that this violence plays in solidifying society. Despite much public discussion regarding the decline of the military's status in society, service continues to function as the archetypical symbol of civic participation and as the temporal, spatial, and institutional template for individuals' and groups' willing sacrifice. Military service is associated with the right to represent the community and its dominant values, and as such becomes imprinted on one's body and bestows social and cultural credibility. In this way, service both structures and stifles the civil imagination, often leading to conceptual idleness with regard to the possibilities of democratic engagement. ^

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Military Studies

Recommended Citation

Livio, Oren, "The right to represent: Negotiating the meaning of military service in Israel" (2011). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3462194.