National Identity Development among Palestinian Student Activists in the Israeli Universities

Article excerpt

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. …

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