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Ben-Gurion University
Uri Ram and the Dept. of Sociology at BGU: Why Karl Marx and Not Adam Smith?

06.08.15

Editorial Note

 

Professor Uri Ram, the dominant figure in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Ben Gurion University, has little regard for liberal economy and the globalization that has popularized the ideas of free market. 

To the contrary, in the 1990s, this self-proclaimed critical scholar and architect of New Sociology, launched a crusade against capitalism.   He excoriated the eminent Hebrew University sociologist Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt for adopting the developmental model of sociology which, in Ram’s view reflected the “hegemonic” free market thinking.  His 2007 book Globalization in Israel vented his frustration with the fact that Israel was becoming part of the free liberal economy.

 

Needless to say, the Department of Sociology and Anthropology reflects his distaste of all thing mainstream or “hegemonic.”  However, a 2012 Council of Higher Education Evaluation Committee offered a scathing report on the Department.  Among others the Committee noted that there was a paucity of rigorous research method courses, that the course offerings were heavily biased toward critical sociology and had little to offer the many students who were interested in applied (and market oriented) subjects such as sociology of organizations, etc. The Committee urged hiring faculty well versed in research methods, including networking analysis and other topics that are prevalent in mainstream sociology departments.  

 

Not much has changed since the Evaluation Report which is still top heavy with faculty which specialize in what the Committee described as non-mainstream sociology.

 

As for Ram himself, he is preoccupied as ever with his vision of what a society should be.  In his new book on Buber and the Buberites, The Return of Martin Buber: National and Social Thought in Israel from Buber to Neo-Buberism (Hebrew), Ram writes that Buber, who became a professor in the Sociology Department at the Hebrew University,  was a champion of social justice.  He goes on to explain that Buberism was undermined by Eisenstadt , but is popular again among the so-called Buberites.  

 

Ram is also organizing a conference on Marx: "The 1917 Bolshevik revolution was central in shaping our age. The revolution was total: an economic, social, cultural, political and educational revolution, and aimed to make true Karl Marx's communist vision, open a new age in the history of the human kind."


Quite clearly, it has probably never occurred to Ram, or anyone else in his Department, to organize a conference on Adam Smith, a name that, according to some observers, is not very familiar to Israeli students.   To do that would be to acknowledge that Smith is as important as Buber and Marx to students who need to func'tion in the 21th century.   

 

The Evaluation Committee was emphatic that the Department’s students were not well equipped for this task and, in fact, have been shortchanged by their faculty.

Here is a couple of suggestions on how the Department can enhance the education of their students.  It is based on the curriculum of the Department of Sociology of the University of Pennsylvania (the oldest department of sociology in the United States.)  First, the department has a very strong research methods program: “Sociology also introduces students to the conceptual and methodological tools of social science research, including ethnography, social statistics, network analysis and demographic methods. It provides a background for careers in law, management, journalism and media, criminology, medicine, education, and applied social research.” Second, it offers a special course on “Work and Careers in the 21th Century.“



המהפכה: לחשוב את 2017 דרך 1917

The Revolution: Thinking 2017 Through 1917 (English text below the Hebrew)

כנס אקדמי באוניברסיטת בן גוריון בנגב

המהפכה הבולשביקית של אוקטובר 1917 הייתה אחד מרגעי השיא שעיצבו את התקופה המודרנית. היא הייתה מהפכה טוטלית – כלכלית, חברתית , תרבותית, פוליטית וחינוכית, שאמורה הייתה לממש את חזונו של קרל מרקס ולפתוח תקופה חדשה בתולדות האנושות. אולם עכשיו, מאה שנה מאוחר יותר, דומה כי האופק המהפכני – במובן הכוללני דאז - סגור לחלוטין. החלום הקומוניסטי, מהפכה שתביא לכינונה של חברת אינטלקטואלים עמלים, שוויונית וסולידרית, נתפס במקרה הטוב כאוטופיה תמימה, ובמקרה הרע כמעבר הכרחי לגיהינום טוטליטרי. כיום, 100 שנים אחרי המהפכה ההיא, אנו מבקשים לחשוב מחדש על החותם שהיא השאירה על החברה המודרנית, מחשבתה, תרבותה והפוליטיקה שלה. אנו שואלים איך נראית 1917 מנקודת הראות של 2017, ואיך נראית 2017 מנקודת הראות של 1917?

הכנס המהפכה: לחשוב את 2017 דרך 1917 יעסוק במהפכה – ושיברה-- בעת המודרנית, בשלושה מישורים. במישור הראשון, הסוציו-פוליטי, נבקש לשאול בין היתר האם המהפכה רלוונטית למחשבה הפוליטית כיום? האם לרעיון השוויון יש תקומה והאם אפשרית חברה פוסט-קפיטליסטית? מה קרה לפרולטריון, המעמד שהיה אמור להיות סובייקט המהפכה? האם יש בכלל סובייקט מהפכני? איזה תפקיד ממלאים האינטלקטואלים בתהליך המהפכני? מה יש לכלכלה המדינית ולסוציולוגיה הפוליטית של מרקס ללמד אותנו כיום? מה תרמו יהודים למהפכה ומה קרה לפוליטיקה יהודית מאז? ובישראל ובפלסטין, שגם בהן היה למהפכה מעמד היסטורי -- האם נותר משהו מכל זה? במישור נוסף נבקש לבחון את סוגיית זיכרון המהפכה והנוסטלגיה אליה. נבקש להרהר על המרחק שבין היסטוריה כתהליך טלאולוגי לבין תפיסת ההיסטוריה כחזרה מתמדת או ככאוס שאינו ניתן להמשגה. נשאל על מקומה ואפיה של תפישה אוטופית עכשווית ושל חיים בסמיכות לקץ ההיסטוריה. ובמישור נוסף, שלישי, נבקש לבחון את ההשפעות המהפכה בתחומי התרבות היוצרת ובחיי היום-יום: ספרות, קולנוע, אמנות פלסטית, משפחה, מוסדות חינוך ואקדמיה, במרחב דובר הרוסית ומעבר לו. הכנס המהפכה: לחשוב את 2017 דרך 1917 יעסוק מנקודת ראות רב-תחומית בשאלות אלה ונוספות הנוגעות לתרבות הפוליטית המודרנית בעקבות המהפכה ושברה, במאה העשרים והעשרים-ואחת. הכנס מתוכנן להתקיים בחודש יוני 2017, באוניברסיטת בן גוריון בנגב בהשתתפות מרצים אורחים מחו"ל ומישראל. פרטים נוספים וקול קורא יפורסמו בהמשך. ניתן לפנות במייל לחברי הוועדה המארגנת.

הוועדה המארגנת: יו"ר: פרופסור אורי רם, המחלקה לסוציולוגיה ואנתרופולוגיה, אוניברסיטת בן גוריון בנגב )uriram1@gmail.com(; פרופסור דני פילק, המחלקה לפוליטיקה וממשל, אוניברסיטת בן גוריון בנגב )dfilk@bgu.ac.il) ; ד"ר יוליה לרנר, המחלקה לסוציולוגיה ואנתרופולוגיה, אוניברסיטת בן גוריון בנגב (julialer@bgu.ac.il( ; פרופסור יגאל חלפין, המחלקה להיסטוריה, אוניברסיטת תל אביב .)halfin@post.tau.ac.il(

The Revolution: Thinking 2017 Through 1917 An academic conference at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

The 1917 Bolshevik revolution was central in shaping our age. The revolution was total: an economic, social, cultural, political and educational revolution, and aimed to make true Karl Marx's communist vision, open a new age in the history of the human kind. One hundred years after the attempt to conquer heaven, the revolutionary horizon – in its totalizing sense – seems as has been foreclosed. Nowadays, the dream of egalitarian society of working intellectuals and intellectual workers, seems at its best a naïve utopia, and at its worst the gate to the totalitarian hell. Today, we wish to rethink the hallmark that the revolution imprinted on contemporary society, on our thinking, our culture and our politics. We want to inquire how to understand 1917 from a 2017 perspective, and how to understand 2017 from the standpoint of 1917.

The conference The Revolution: Thinking 2017 Through 1917, will address the revolution, the revolutionary crisis and the crisis of revolution, at three levels. The first one, sociopolitical: we will ponder whether the revolutionary thinking and praxis has any relevance for political thinking nowadays. Is it possible to revive the idea of a community of free and equals? Is a post-capitalist society conceivable? What happened to the proletariat, the “revolutionary class”? What does the "revolutionary subject" mean today? What is the role of the intellectuals in social transformation? What can Marx's political economy and sociology teach us today? What was the Jewish contribution to the revolution, and what happened to Jewish politics since? In Israel/Palestine, where the revolution had a significant presence, what remains of it are left? At a second level, we will examine the memory of the revolution and revolutionary nostalgia; attempting to think history beyond the alternative of either teleology or a chaos. We are interested in asking about the place and character of utopia in our days, and about living at the "end of history".

Finally, at a third level, we want to probe the influence of the revolution on the production of culture, and modes of creativity and every-day life in the spheres of literature, cinema, plastic arts, the family, schools and the university; within and beyond the Russian-speaking world. The conference The Revolution: Thinking 2017 Through 1917 aims to inquire and discuss these different questions from a multi and inter-disciplinary perspective. The conference will take place in June 2017, at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, in Israel, and will host participants from Israel and from abroad. A Call for Papers and further details will be published in the near future.

The Steering Committee: Chair: Prof. Uri Ram, Department of Sociology and Anthropology Ben-Gurion University (uriram1@gmail.com); Prof. Yulia Lerner, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Ben-Gurion University (julialer@bgu.ac.il); Prof. Igal Halfin, Department of History, Tel Aviv University (halfin@post.tau.ac.il); Prof. Dani Filc, Department of Politics and Government, Ben-Gurion University (dfilc@bgu.ac.il).


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http://www.haaretz.com/news/features/.premium-1.663086

Why are the teachings of a one-time radical leftist enjoying a resurgence in Israel?

Could the legacy of the almost-forgotten philosopher Martin Buber rescue civil democracy in Israel?

By Uri Ram Jun. 25, 2015 | 10:50 PM

 The recent election put a new spoke in the wheels of the wobbly cart of the Israeli left. The left lost its cultural and governmental hegemony in the electoral setback it suffered in the late 1970s; the dream of an “exemplary society” was lost during the process of economic privatization that began in the 1980s, which positioned Israel as a prime practitioner of socioeconomic inequity; and the heart’s desire of the left, the implementation of a two-state solution, was short-lived and ended with the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Finally, the politics of identities and traditionality, which gained intensity with the wave of globalization, left secular Israel despoiled and abandoned.

The left, which has lost its social foothold and political vision, is engaged in a search for new flags and cultural heroes. One of the outstanding current candidates for the position of spiritual father is the philosopher Martin Buber. This year, which marked the 50th anniversary of his death (he was born in Vienna in 1878, and died in Jerusalem in 1965), there has been an unprecedented interest in both him and his philosophy, which have been the focus of countless colloquia, discussions and publications.

At a conference in May at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (sponsored by the Leo Baeck Foundation, Goethe University Frankfurt and other institutions), one got the impression – besides the academic character of the event – of a certain aura of sanctity hovering over the proceedings.

A portrait of Buber was projected high up behind the dais, in somewhat blurry lines and against a sky-blue background. In the center of the stage, stood a harp, which was joined by a viola for a performance of Beethoven’s E flat major sonata for flute. The stage was graced by an exquisite flower arrangement, fitting for an official state ceremony. Standing along the left side were the flags of Israel and Germany, intertwined as if confirming the renewed Israeli-German embrace. On the right stood Prof. Paul Mendes-Flohr, the world’s leading Buber scholar, who is currently engaged in editing a German-language anthology of his writings.

Martin Buber had been a standard-bearer of the radical left from the 1920s, but starting in the 1960s his image began to dim and his memory to fade. What, then, does the current Buber resurgence reflect?

Forgotten heritage

During the philosopher’s heyday, his messages resonated well with the image of the “community” of Hebrew settlement in the Land of Israel during the decade prior to independence. Buber arrived in Palestine in 1938, and settled in Jerusalem. He brought with him the problematic admixture of German national culture, which combined humanistic sensitivity and a legacy of openness with a romantic, anti-modern, “folkish” nationalism, swamped with myths of the birth of the nation in a distant past and of its heroic glory during its “golden ages.”

A theoretical expression of this folkish admixture may be found in German philosophy, in its clear preference for the social model of the traditional, intimate and ostensibly authentic “community” (Gemeinschaft ) over the modern, utilitarian and ostensibly alienated “society” (Gesellschaft). The “village” was to be preferred over the “city,” and the deep “meaning” seemingly inherent to German Kultur, was better than the “mass civilization” that ostensibly characterizes the cultures of France, England or America.

In Buber’s philosophy these distinctions correspond with the major distinction he draws between the “I-Thou” relationship (direct interpersonal relationships) and the “I-It” relationship (mediated interpersonal relationships, possessing an objective dimension), which reflects the Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft models, respectively.

Until World War I, the political philosophies of the European right and left were comparable in their denigration of modernism, but afterward the differences between them grew more acute. For his part, Buber continued to carry this ambivalent attitude for many years. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Jewish settlements in the pre-statehood years, which is to say, the kibbutzim, which he viewed as an ideal social model that also advanced the redemption of the Jewish people in its land.

Buber’s conception of Zionism was religious and nationalist in character, a merger of the philosophies of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook – the forerunner of the right-wing Gush Emunim settlement movement – and that of Aharon David Gordon, a prophet of the socialist-Zionist “religion of labor.” Nevertheless, Buber was also a strong supporter of Jewish-Arab dialogue and coexistence, to the extent that he supported a binational state (through the Brit Shalom organization in the 1920s, and the Ihud organization from the 1940s onward).

But the exalted status accrued by Buber in the first half of the 20th century did little to bolster his status in the young State of Israel. When he arrived in Palestine, he was 60 years old and enjoyed worldwide acclaim. He received an appointment at Hebrew University as a “sociologist of culture” – even before the sociology department was established. And when it was created, in 1948, Buber was appointed the first department chair, although he held the post for only a brief period. In 1950, he passed on the position to his student Shmuel Noah Eisenstadt (1923-2010), who was only 26 at the time.

Eisenstadt remained department chair for two decades, and subsequently served as dean of the university’s School of Social Sciences. He reshaped the social sciences in Israel – all the while obscuring the memory of Buber’s fuzzy leftist-rightist, or romantic-humanistic, legacy.

In Germany, the young Buber had been associated with the leading figures in the field of sociology, and was involved in the most important sociological work done during this period. He took part in the historic founding conference of the Sociological Association of Germany in 1909. One would therefore expect that his international stature and fame would have been readily embraced by the Israeli academic world in the 1950s or ‘60s, particularly by sociologists, who could have cultivated his image as a founding father of the discipline in Israel.

But this title was instead bestowed on Eisenstadt, and Buber was forgotten, particularly in social-science circles. Buber’s communal-communitarian sociology suited the spirit of the socialistic national ethos during the Hebrew “community” phase of pre-state Israel, but no longer suited the spirit of the state-centered period following its establishment.

In the transition from community to state, the state became the chief organization enlisting the social resources and apportioning them to the social tasks at hand. A suitable “systemic” approach was required – one that viewed society as a well-balanced and adjusted mechanism, ethically united and capable of carrying out tasks through its “institutions” and “roles,” as the sociological jargon has it. Eisenstadt was the individual who lent his scientific approval to this approach.

Multidimensional crisis

The transition from Buber to Eisenstadt as head of the sociology department is thus concomitant with the transition of Israeli society from a self-image of Gemeinschaft to a self-image of Gesellschaft, and the conversion of its academic orientation from the German Kultur to the French-English and especially American “civilization” – in an Israeli adaptation, of course. From here on, it would the modern Gesellschaft that would be appreciated and preferred. Buber would no longer play a role in this cultural system.

However, in the first two decades of the 21st century, well after he entirely vanished from the social discourse in Israel, the image and legacy of Buber are finding a reawakening. He is once more being considered appropriate to the spirit of the times. The “return of Martin Buber” may be seen as a response to the crisis in which Israeli society now finds itself and to the manner in which this situation reverberates among the various subdivisions of the left (and even some of the center). This crisis is multidimensional.

In the political realm, the crisis derives from the instability of the regime in Israel, which lacks any consensual boundaries, be they geographic, demographic or political. Israel is trying to grab an elusive stick at both ends – to be Jewish and to be considered democratic. But the tension between the two poles becomes increasingly exacerbated the more that its hold on the occupied territories, now in its 49th year, deepens.

Since the breakdown of the Oslo plan and the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, there has been a sense that the path of no return has become stronger, and it is causing radical democratic circles to seize onto the binational thought espoused by Buber. “Binationalism” as a substitute for “two states” – this, then, is the primary attribute of what I term “neo-Buberism.”

In the social realm, the crisis stems from the fundamental changes that Israel has undergone since the mid-1980s, when the transition from a public economy to a market one began – in other words, from a policy of economic development attributable to public initiative and with public means, and of governmental responsibility for distribution of the national product, to a competitive capitalistic economy that is essentially controlled by huge conglomerates or management companies that are privately owned by a financial elite: the “tycoons.”

The result is the concentration of abundant wealth in the hands of the upper 1 percent or even 10th of one percent, and the impoverishment of the middle and working classes and the weaker population groups. All of this has been called “piggish capitalism.”

In the absence of any political “address” for a struggle against this sweeping neo-liberal trend (as exemplified by the failure of the social protests of 2011), many in the left are hankering for the communal vision of Buber, even if it cannot offer any comprehensive solution, but only seclusion in small “communes.”

The second component of neo-Buberism is, then, communalism that basically offers a politics of cutural identities in place of a politics of social classes.

Another aspect of the return to Buber is related to a cultural crisis. The conceding of political boundaries and the definitions of citizenship that stem from it, and Israeli expansion into the “territories” while enforcing control on a large Palestinian Arab population that has not been granted citizenship – all this makes Jewish ethnic-religious definition essential for the purpose of identifying the boundaries of the collective, while simultaneously distinguishing between it and the Other that lives within the same spatial and governmental boundaries.

In this situation, the “Israeliness” element of local identity declines, and the “Jewishness” element is ascendant. Buber is “comfortable” with this transition. He believed in a Jewish “religiosity” that is not subordinate to the institutionalized Jewish “religion” – that is, to the commandments and the rabbis. This is a conception of identity that enables secular Israelis to redefine themselves as “spiritual,” traditional, or, alternatively, as post-secular, and thereby to participate in creating the renewed Jewish legitimacy in Israel. If so, the third element of neo-Buberism is a version of “soft religiosity” or “Judaism lite.”

Lastly, there is a fourth aspect to the current return to Buber, one that is more specific to intellectuals. It has to do with the crisis in the approach to knowledge in the social sciences and humanities, pertaining to their decidedly American style. In these disciplines, criticism has been developing toward the dominant positivist trends, and an alternative agenda is being suggested which includes interpretive methodologies and post-modern and post-colonial perspectives, which are receptive to the point of view of the Other, or the “subordinated” and “subaltern” subjects.

Intellectuals seeking to modify the dominant American theoretical and methodological orientation can find in Buber support for such alternative visions. Therefore, the fourth characteristic of neo-Buberism is a “post-positivist” research program in the social sciences.

The return to Buber is appealing, as it offers succor to the great breakdown of the left and to its practical disappearance from political culture in Israel. Now, Buber’s approach can be interpreted by its new proponents not as representative of folkish German communitarianism, but rather as a harbinger of post-state, community-oriented and critical social science. But the fundamental ambivalence inherent to Buber’s legacy, between humanistic left and romanticist right, is liable to be an obstacle, and instead of serving the collapsing civil democracy in Israel, it could in fact serve the surging Jewish national-religious communitarianism.


Uri Ram is a professor of sociology at Ben-Gurion University. His book “The Return of Martin Buber: National and Social Thought in Israel from Buber to Neo-Buberism” was recently published (in Hebrew) by Resling Books.


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http://in.bgu.ac.il/humsos/soc-ant/Pages/news/Uri-Ram-Buber.aspx

ספר חדש מאת אורי רם- שובו של מרטין בובר: המחשבה הלאומית והחברתית בישראל מבובר עד הבובריאנים החדשים.

 

14/05/2015

Uri-ram-buber.jpg

ספרו של אורי רם שובו של מרטין בובר: המחשבה הלאומית והחברתית בישראל מבובר עד הבובריאנים החדשים יצא לאור בהוצאת רסלינג. הספר דן בעובדה הנשכחת כי מרדכי מרטין בובר (1878-1965) היה ראש המחלקה הראשון של המחלקה הראשונה לסוציולוגיה, באוניברסיטה הראשונה בארץ ישראל. הספר מנתח את ההיסטוריה הרעיונית של המחשבה הלאומית והחברתית, ושל הסוציולוגיה בישראל, סביב שאלת מעמדו המשתנה של בובר – מה היה מקומו הראשוני בסוציולוגיה? מדוע הוא נעלם מן הקנון הסוציולוגי? ומדוע לאחרונה שבה מחשבתו למרכז הבימה?
 אורי רם מציג מבט חדש על הגותו של בובר ומציע קריאה ביקורתית בה. הוא גורס כי אף שבובר מוכר בעיקר כאיש ארגוני השלום בתקופת היישוב -- ברית שלום ואיחוד, יש לדעת כי הוא היה גם הוגה גרמני בן זמנו, השולל את המודרניות מכל וכל והנוהה אחר החזיונות השמרניים-ימניים של קהילת הגמיינשאפט המסורתית, תרבות ה"פולק" הלאומית, ועדת המאמינים.
 באמצעות דיון בבובר, הספר דן בהיסטוריה של החשיבה הלאומית, החברתית בישראל ובעיקר בחילופי הפרדיגמות בסוציולוגיה הישראלית מהפרדיגמה הגרמנית של "משבר המודרניות" לפרדיגמה האמריקנית של "שגשוג המודרניות".
 המחלקה לסוציולוגיה נוסדה בשנת הלימודים 1947/8 ובובר התמנה לראשה. סוציולוגיית הקהילה הרומנטית שלו (הגמיינשאפט) תאמה במידת מה את רוח תקופת ה"יישוב", אך לא את רוח התקופה ה"ממלכתית" שלאחר הקמת המדינה. ב-1950 הנהגת הסוציולוגיה עברה מבובר לתלמידו שמואל נוח אייזנשטדט, אשר עיצב את התחום בעשורים הבאים ברוח החברה כמערכת (הגזלשאפט) והמודרניזציה האמריקנית. דמותו של בובר נדחקה לשוליים לתקופה ארוכה.
 אולם, מאז שנות התשעים של המאה-העשרים זוכה מעמדו של בובר לעדנה, וזאת על רקע משבר הלאומיות החילונית, משבר הסולידריות החברתית ועליית גישות פוסט-מודרניות ופוסט-קולוניאליות בתרבות האינטלקטואלית. הסוציולוגיה הנוצרת בהשראת בובר מכונה בספר בובריאנית חדשה (או ניאו-בובריאנית), והספר מעלה את התהייה האם היא מקדמת את התרבות הדמוקרטית האזרחית או שמא היא מעצימה את התרבות הלאומית-דתית בישראל כיום.
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