Between Academic Ornament, External Expert and Suspect Ally: Lessons from Research on the Israeli Military

Tuesday, 17 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Eyal BEN-ARI, Kinneret Academic College, Kinneret Center, Israel

This paper offers some reflective insights from three decades of research on the Israeli armed forces. The perspective I take is that of the sociology of knowledge, that is the social structures and dynamics by which my participation in a variety of forums shaped the kinds of "military knowledge" that was created. In other words, I trace out the social situations through which my research (often in cooperation with serving officers) was amalgamated in forms that military actors used. I explore four key experiences that I encountered: first, writing about the reserve infantry battalion in which I served during the first Palestinian Intifada to show the kinds of obligations and self-censorship that were involved in the ethnography I eventually wrote about it. Second, being invited to a multiplicity of committees as an "expert". Here I deal with the tension between contributing critical views or functional advice and the fact that I was often turned into little more than an "academic ornament|. Third, I analyze the research that I have carried out along with serving officers to explore the ways these officers used me to offer critiques of army policy as well as to mediate academic knowledge so that it can be ingested by the military institution. Fourth, I analyze my work outside the IDF on military issues to show how my arguments and findings are usually ignored or at best selectively cited. In all four cases, I offer reflections on the kinds of ties that bounded me to the military, the emergent "contracts" that these ties entailed, and the knowledge that was created.