National identity development among Palestinian student activists in the Israeli universities.

Author:Makkawi, Ibrahim
 
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Abstract: This paper explores the process of national identity development, and closely related themes among Palestinian student activists in the Israeli universities. Informed by the tradition of social identity theory, in-depth qualitative inquiry was conducted with an intensity sample of 35 Palestinian student activists attending the major five Israeli universities. Grounded theory analysis conducted on the open-ended interviews, document analysis and field observation revealed five dominant themes, which characterize Palestinian student activist. First, national identity was conceived as a cause of involvement in student activism, and as a psychological construct, which was reconstructed and developed through the experience of activism itself. Second, a sense of group relative deprivation in comparison with the dominant Jewish group was prevalent and closely related to the students' sense of national identity. Third, political party membership constitutes a mid-range identity linking the individual and the collective levels of identity. Forth, women student activists advocated an intertwined feminist-nationalist agenda. Finally, psychosocial development and adjustment was revealed as an outcome of involvement in student activism. Findings reinforce the vital role of the student movement as a national socialization context in light of the continuing Israeli hegemonic practices over Palestinian formal education.

Theoretical Framework and Context

The founder of the European school of social psychology argued that American social psychology has become too reductionist and individualistic by relying on the "most often unstated assumption that individuals live and behave in a homogeneous social medium" (Tajfel, 1981, p. 49). Tajfel's argument for a "genuinely social psychology was not a call to study sociology or purely social processes" (Turner, 1996, p. 21). The focus remains on the psychological processes within the individual as they are determined by our memberships in larger social groups. These groups are distinguished from social categories in sociological terms (e.g., all single parents) by virtue of the shared psychological connection and affiliation among their members (Tajfel, 1981). Most relevant to our discussion of Palestinian students as a minority group within the sociopolitical context of the Israeli universities is Tajfel's statement that, "any society which contains power, status, prestige and social group differentials (and they all do), places each of us in a number of social categories which become an integral part of our self-definition" (1977, p. 66).

The term "social identity"--as used in European social psychology--refers to that part of our self-concept, which is based on our membership in larger social categories (i.e., race, gender, and nation). In American social psychology, the term "collective identity" is used to refer to the same construct, while using "social identity" to refer to our membership in small face-to-face groups (Luhtanen & Crocker, 1992). The current study is concerned with the concept "social identity" (European terminology) or "collective identity" (American terminology). For matters of consistency, the term "national identity" will be applied throughout the discussion unless stated otherwise.

Social identity is defined as "that part of an individual's self-concept which derives from his [or her] knowledge of his [or her] membership of a social group (or groups) together with the value and emotional significance attached to that membership" (Tajfel, 1981, p. 255). There are two components of the self-concept: personal identity, which includes specific individual attributes such as feelings of competence, psychological traits, and personal values; and social identity, which derives from one's knowledge and feeling about his or her membership in a social group (Tajfel & Turner, 1986).

Social identity theory (Tajfel & Turner, 1986) defines the collective selfin terms of membership in larger social categories that do not require face-to-face interaction among their members but are defined by the psychological feeling of "we" versus "they." Brewer & Gardner (1996) argue that we have two levels of collective selves: "those that derive from interpersonal relationships and interdependence with specific others and those that derive from membership in larger, more impersonal collectives or social categories" (p. 83). While the majority of our social groups memberships are ascribed (i.e., race, gender, ethnicity) we have more freedom in choosing our memberships in small face-to-face social groups. This choice of group membership is explicated by Brewer's (1991) theory of "optimal distinctiveness" which, indicates that "social identity derives from a fundamental tension between human needs for validation and similarity to others (on the one hand) and countervailing need for uniqueness and individuation (on the other)" (p. 477). We join social groups that provide us with an optimal balance between these two contradictory human needs.

In their social identity theory, Tajfel & Turner (1986) stated that there is a relationship between in-group discrimination and self-esteem. What they meant was that type of self-esteem, which derives from our group membership or that specific social identity. People have a need to maintain positive social identity (Tajfel, 1981) or positive collective self-esteem (Luhtanen & Crocker, 1991) in the same manner they aspire to enhance their personal or global self-esteem (Rosenberg, 1965). Positive collective self-esteem is achieved through a process of social comparison between the in-group and relevant out-groups (Luhtanen & Crocker, 1991). The relationship between social identity, collective self-esteem and attitudes toward the out-group continues to be paradoxical. Luhtanen and Crocker (1991) cite research showing that in order to enhance their collective self-esteem, people tend to view their in-group more favorably than the out-groups, while at the same time people with high collective self-esteem are found to be less prejudiced against members of the out-group. Furthermore, people with high collective self-esteem are more likely to be "active in causes and activities involving the enhancement of their in-group's status in society" (Luhtanen & Crocker, 1991, p. 230).

Consistent with social identity theory, the concept relative deprivation and its consequences have been the focus of many disciplines. Stouffer, Suchman, DeVinney, Star & Williams (1949) first introduced the term relative deprivation in their classic study The American Soldier. In that study the authors found that higher-ranking officers who expected promotion but did not receive it felt more relative deprivation than lower ranking soldiers who did not have such expectations. Gurr (1970), in his classic book Why Men Rebel, defines relative deprivation from a political science perspective as "the actor's perception of discrepancy between their value expectations and their value capabilities" (p. 24). Consequently, people "rebel against their condition not when they are deprived in an absolute sense but when they 'feel' deprived relative to some comparison persons or groups" (Guimond & Dube-Simard, 1983, p. 526).

Runciman (1966) differentiated between egoistic (or individual) relative deprivation and fraternalistitic (or group) relative deprivation. Individualistic relative deprivation is the case when individuals compare their situation to other individuals from their in-group, while in the case of group relative deprivation; individuals feel that their in-group as a whole is deprived in comparison to relevant out-groups. The group component of relative deprivation was found to correlate closely with individuals' sense of ethnic identity among Italian immigrants in Australia (Petta & Walker, 1992).

Another important distinction in the concept of relative deprivation is made between its cognitive and affective components (De La Rey & Ruja, 1996; Guimond & Dube-Simard, 1983; Olson & Hafer, 1996; Walker & Pettigrew, 1984). These researchers argue that relative deprivation involves "a perceived negative discrepancy between one's own or one's group's position and some referent as well as feeling of discontent" (Olson & Hafer, 1996, p. 85). Walker and Pettigrew (1984) call this the "cold" and "hot" components of relative deprivation, and argue that it is the affective component, which motivates involvement in collective action on behalf of the in-group. Research findings indicate that it is not clear whether the cognitive and affective components of relative deprivation are independent from each other or intertwined (Olson & Hafer, 1996).

Thus far, we have discussed concepts of social identity theory and relevant theoretical developments such as collective self-esteem and relative deprivation. Developmental psychology, and particularly psychosocial development theory provides another important aspect of the theoretical grounding of this study. The most important contribution of Erikson's psychosocial development theory is his introduction of the concept ego identity development during adolescence. Erikson believed that the healthy personality actively masters the environment, shows a certain unity of personality, and is able to perceive the world and the self correctly. None of these aspects exists in the newborn child and identity development involves acquiring different kinds of ego strengths as we resolve positively each of the life crises we encounter. In each stage we build strength of the ego (Erikson, 1968).

Personal identity is broadly defined as the organization of the individual's drives, abilities, attitudes, beliefs, and experiences into a consistent image of themselves. Personal identity also involves choices and decisions regarding vocation, sexual orientation and a philosophy of life (Marcia, Waterman, Matteson, Archer & Orlofsky, 1993). Erikson (1968)...

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