9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN11 Sociology of Emotions

2009-09-03 13:30:00 2009-09-03 15:00:00 Thursday, 3 September 13:30 - 15:00 Emotions in States at War Building II, C6.06

Discourses of Emotion in Israeli Soldiers' Testimonials

In the spring of 2004, a core activist group of recently discharged Israeli soldiers, who had spent much of their mandatory military service in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, launched a testimonial project designed to give voice to their personal experiences active duty. They coalesced under the name of Breaking the Silence, using the numerous photographs and oral testimonies they had gathered as the basis for a awareness-raising campaign conducted in a range of forms and venues, including a traveling photography exhibition, an edited collection of testimonial booklets, articles in the mainstream press, alternative guided tours in the West-Bank town of Hebron, and a well-designed website.

Alongside factual reports of the soldiers' routine military activities and the hardships suffered by the Palestinian population under the occupation regime, the soldiers' verbal testimonies are punctuated by self-reflective statements articulating their responses to what they saw and what they did. We analyze these statements by building on previous research related to images of soldierhood and their gendered dimensions. We propose that the intensive focus on emotional experience is crucial to the social role of the Breaking the Silence testimonial project as a counter-discourse that challenges hegemonic views of the soldierly identity. More specifically, we note the soldiers' preoccupation with the tension between expressivity and emotional control and between structural power and existential vulnerability, as well as their back-and-forth movement between moments of emotional distancing on the one hand and empathic identification on the other. Finally, we examine the ways in which "moral feelings" such as shame and guilt are both directly and indirectly addressed by the soldier-witnesses in their insistence on re-moralizing the field of martial action in which they find themselves trapped.