Cooperation and conflict in the zone of civil society: Arab-Jewish activism in Jaffa

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This paper presents a bottom-up perspective on local articulations of civil society in a deeply ethnicized and classed setting. Ethnographic documentation of grassroots Arab-Jewish activism in Jaffa, Israel, reveals a discourse that combines aggressive factionalism and strong appreciation of ethnic diversity, and is saturated with strong gender undertones. I characterize the action-pattern of local groups as "cooperative conflict." This concept, which originates in Sen's work on household economy, facilitates the incorporation of subjective, identity-bound aspects into the process of civil society, where bargaining has been long regarded as a central practice. In the local discourse, the dual character of discord and togetherness translates into endemic debates. A symbolic reading of these debates exposes a pattern of conceptual contradictions, which share a semantic structure and draw on a similar gender schema. I use this reading of the subtext of civil activism to trace the multiple forces that operate in the urban arena. This case supports critical understandings of civil society as embedded in, rather than opposed to, culture, ethnicity, and class, and of citizenship as an ongoing project of subject-making (Ong 1996). Yet it also highlights the unrelenting grip of hegemonic masculinity over diverse versions of rights and entitlement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)105-140
Number of pages36
JournalUrban Anthropology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2006

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Anthropology
  • Urban Studies


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