A new moral and ethical assemblage?

In a programmatic text on the emergence of global assemblages, Ong and Collier (2008: 13) argue that ‘neoliberalism’s actual shape and significance for the forms of individual and collective life can only be understood as it enters into assemblages with other elements’. They define an assemblage as ‘the product of multiple determinations that are not reducible to a single logic’ (ibid.: 12). In this chapter, I have tried to show how such an assemblage is being constructed in the new field of Israeli coaching. I have argued that we should not interpret the emergence of this field as expressing a single individualization logic in Israeli society, but rather look at how coaching’s neoliberal therapeutic rationality enters into dialogue with local discourses and traditions of the self as it is adopted by different social groups.

Focusing on the case of coaches from Israel’s ‘last republican generation’, I have pointed at how life-coaching provides them with a new language for ‘linking the private self to the public sphere' (Illouz, 2008: 2). This language seems to have replaced the Labor Zionist collectivistic ethos that has lost much of its former relevance in contemporary neoliberal Israel. But as I have tried to show, this does not mean that this ethos and its associated republican dispositions to act for the common good of the nation have disappeared from this generation’s moral landscape. Instead, they partake in a new ‘moral and ethical assemblage’ (Zigon, 2010, 2011), which also includes neoliberal discourses of entrepreneurship, individual autonomy and self-development. As Zigon (2011: 44) argues, ‘within moral and ethical assemblages diverse and seemingly contradictory discursive traditions can uniquely combine and support one another in ways perhaps unrecognized by those participating in the assemblage’. Hence, ‘they offer a greater range of possibilities for morally being in the world and ethically working on oneself than any one of these traditions on its own’ (ibid.: 47). For members of the last republican generation then, such an assemblage provides a context for remaking their complex identities in neoliberal Israel.

Finally, this chapter joins a growing body of research showing the implication of self-improvement discourses and practices in the (re)construction of national communities and identities in the wake of neoliberal reform, especially (but not exclusively) in the post-socialist context. In this process, old-time local notions of citizenship, patriotism and the common good are reworked in creative and often unpredictable ways, as they articulate with neoliberal political rationalities (Hemment, 2012; Hoffman. 2006; Matza, 2009). Thus, without overlooking therapy’s role as a globalizing and homogenizing force (Illouz, 2008; Nehring et al., 2016), future research should also consider how it is deployed in efforts to reassemble the nation.

Notes

  • 1 This research was supported by The Israeli Science Foundation (grant No. 16496).
  • 2 Like in most parts of the world, coaching is not a state-certified profession in Israel, so there are no official statistics on the number of trainees and practitioners. Available data from local coaching associations suggests that over 10,000 Israelis sought coaching training, allegedly making Israel the country with the highest number of trained coaches per capita in the world (see Kaneh-Shalit, 2017). However, it is important to note that most certified coaches do not end up working in the field, so that the number of actually practicing coaches is much lower.
  • 3 In an immigrant society such as Israel, the term ‘veteran’ is used to distinguish between older and newer Jewish immigrants. Veterans were those that immigrated to Israel prior to the state declaration in 1948, mostly from Eastern Europe, and conformed the local social elite (see Peled & Shapir, 2005; Kimmerling, 2001).
  • 4 Following Israeli researchers of ethnicity, I treat the Ashkenazi ethnic label as a performative rather than as ascriptive identity (see Sasson-Levy, 2013). Thus, my sample includes a few ‘pure’ Mizrachim (Jews from North Africa and Middle Eastern countries) and individuals of mixed ethnicity that resemble and act as Ashkenazim in most respects.
  • 5 Again, there are no official statistics on the age-distribution of certified coaches in Israel. Nonetheless, the central role of members of this generational unit in the coaching field is hard to miss. For example, most of the founders and original members of the two major coaching associations in Israel come from this social group (for similar findings in the U.S., see George, 2013: 191).
  • 6 These include, among others, the trauma of the 1973 War, the political turnover of 1977, which ended Labor’s forty years of continued government, the liberalization of the economy and the increasing penetration of Western consumer culture.
  • 7 As a number of social commentators have noted, the Zionist pioneering ethos has not disappeared, but has been taken up and revamped by the religious-nationalist right in its efforts to gain national legitimation for its colonization project in the West Bank (see Ben-Eliezer, 1998; Ram, 2008; Shafir and Peled, 2002).
  • 8 The biblical Hebrew word shlichut, which originally referred to emissaries carrying another person or God’s mission, has deep Zionist connotations, as it is commonly used to refer to dedication to the achievement of the goals of Zionism. Like hagshama, it denotes unselfish work for the sake of the nation.
  • 9 Haim’s therapeutic approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is in fact not original, as the practice of fostering unmediated open and empathetic dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians is a long-time feature of the ‘peace industry’ (as its detractors call it) that developed around the conflict.

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