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LINGUIST List 19.648

Tue Feb 26 2008

Diss: Anthro Ling/Phonetics/Socioling: Levon: 'National Discord: La...'

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        1.    Erez Levon, National Discord: Language, sexuality and the politics of belonging in Israel


Message 1: National Discord: Language, sexuality and the politics of belonging in Israel
Date: 26-Feb-2008
From: Erez Levon <e.levonqmul.ac.uk>
Subject: National Discord: Language, sexuality and the politics of belonging in Israel
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Institution: New York University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2008

Author: Erez Levon

Dissertation Title: National Discord: Language, sexuality and the politics of
belonging in Israel

Linguistic Field(s): Anthropological Linguistics
Phonetics
Sociolinguistics

Subject Language(s): Hebrew (heb)


Dissertation Director(s):
Renée Blake
John Singler
Don Kulick
Rudolf P. Gaudio
Gregory R. Guy

Dissertation Abstract:

Despite significant legal enfranchisements over the past 20 years,
gays and lesbians in Israel remain largely marginalized and excluded
from society. My dissertation explores how gay and lesbian Israelis
understand and negotiate this exclusion, and maps out the ways in
which they construct identities for themselves that seek to overcome
it. Based on a detailed ethnography of gender and sexuality in Israel,
I trace the historical and ideological roots of a perceived
incompatibility between gay or lesbian identity, on one hand, and the
values that normatively define belonging in Israeli society, on the
other. Reflecting the desire of early Zionist leaders to escape what
they viewed as the physical and moral degeneration of Jews in Europe,
these values are grounded in a powerful discourse of the traditional
(Jewish) family and serve to link a heteronormative conceptualization
of gender and gender-appropriate behavior to what it means to "be
Israeli." Gays and lesbians exist outside of and in conflict with this
discourse, and a crucial component of the construction and performance
of a gay or lesbian subjectivity in Israel involves reconciling this
sexual/national tension. Combining quantitative and qualitative
methods, my doctoral research investigates the multiple and creative
ways in which people who identify as both gay or lesbian and Israeli
use language to achieve this reconciliation.

The data for my research is drawn from ethnographic fieldwork in
Tel-Aviv, Haifa and Jerusalem, where I spent 12 months observing
numerous gay and lesbian activist associations ranging across the
Israeli political spectrum. Linguistic analyses, which focus on
certain prosodic characteristics and are based on over 100 hours of
recorded interviews (in Hebrew) with group members, expose significant
differences in how members of the various groups conceive of and
construct their sexual subjectivities through language. These
differences are shown to correspond to the groups' distinct positions
within Israeli politics more generally. For example, comparisons
across the groups reveal systematic variation in terms of average
speaking pitch: members of those groups who strongly identify with
Israel as a nation and with standard definitions of Israeli identity
approximate gender-normative pitch patterns, whereas members of those
groups who are more critical of Israeli society and distance
themselves from identifying with it do not. This finding is meaningful
when considered in light of the dominant formulation of Israeli
identity and its associated discourse of appropriate gendered
behavior. For those who accept this formulation, the symbolic
expression of a distinctive sexual identity is superseded and
supplanted by the expression of a shared national one. In contrast,
those who reject standard definitions of Israeli identity attempt to
transform what being (and thus talking like an) Israeli means, in
order to make the expression of their sexuality compatible with the
expression of their nationality.

As this example illustrates, the results of my dissertation underscore
the inextricability of sexuality from individuals' other national and
cultural identifications. My analyses reveal a diversity of attitudes,
beliefs and linguistic practices among Israeli gays and lesbians. This
finding challenges the assumption that sexuality per se is an adequate
or useful heuristic for linguistic, or other, research, and instead
promotes a program of study that delves into the intricacies and
contradictions inherent in all processes of sexual subject
formation. By demonstrating a link between individuals' understandings
of their sexualities and their understandings of the nation, my
research goes beyond an examination of reified identity categories to
explore the manifold social and discursive forces that frame the
construction and performance of gay and lesbian identities in Israel.
s this example illustrates, the results of my dissertation underscore
the inextricability of sexuality from individuals' other national and
cultural identifications. My analyses reveal a diversity of attitudes,
beliefs and linguistic practices among Israeli gays and lesbians. This
finding challenges the assumption that sexuality per se is an adequate
or useful heuristic for linguistic, or other, research, and instead
promotes a program of study that delves into the intricacies and
contradictions inherent in all processes of sexual subject
formation. By demonstrating a link between individuals' understandings
of their sexualities and their understandings of the nation, my
research goes beyond an examination of reified identity categories to
explore the manifold social and discursive forces that frame the
construction and performance of gay and lesbian identities in Israel.


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