The arrival of highly educated immigrants from the former Soviet Union, governmental support for hi-tech incubators, and prospects for peace that attracted foreign investors are commonly cited as the main factors behind Israel’s start-up boom in the nineties. A few figures: in 1990 hi-tech comprised 23% of all industrial exports, rising to 33% by 1997; in 1990, 148,870 people were employed in the various high-tech sectors, and by 1996, the number had grown to 182,950, over 3% of the population; sales of software developed by Israeli companies rose from $450m in 1990 (of which $89m was exported) to $3bn in 1999 (of which $2bn was exported); in 1985 the Athena Fund was Israel’s first and only venture capital company, but by the end of the 1990s there were over 100 venture capital companies operating in Israel; between 1995 and 1999, exports of technology-intensive sectors rose by 68%; finally, it is claimed that about 15% of all world-wide internet technologies originated in Israel (sources: Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, 1999; Yachin, 2001a; 2001b).
Today, of course, the situation is far from rosy, with investments falling and hi-tech unemployment on the rise.
More impressionistic, and, to the best of my knowledge, as yet undocumented indicators of the growth of hi-tech might include the large numbers of large company cars seen driving to work in the country’s hi-tech centres, and the increased popularity of overseas holidays, particularly skiing. It was also during the 1990s that the image of the young, scruffy, non-conformist Israeli entrepreneur, who, with a single brilliant idea, takes America by storm and makes his fortune, became common currency.
Outside of the hi-tech industry, Israeli society, like other western countries, can be seen as becoming more hi-tech itself. There are a number of indicators that support this claim. One aspect is the rapid rise in the number of internet users in the last 6 years – it is reckoned there are over 1m Israelis on-line today.19 Also, Israel’s local expenditure on information technology was estimated at $2.4 billion in 1997, with a steady growth of 12-15% annually (Cohen, 1999). In other words, whilst the growth of the hi-tech industry in the nineties is perhaps most clearly visible and measurable, there are other indicators that show how Israelis incorporate technological advances into their day-to-day life. Israel’s “hi-tech revolution”, then, is not just a story of a group of professionals, but is rather part of a broader process that encompasses wide sections of Israeli society.20 I propose to focus my research on Israeli internet service providing companies (ISPs), and particularly their senior executives, as they are the people most likely to have the most overseas business connections, as well as possessing the most global outlook of the company’s employees.21 There are many reasons for studying ISPs, perhaps the strongest of which is the key place the internet has played in globalisation. If we understand globalisation as involving a huge increase in communication across the world then the internet must surely take pride of place in this development. For instance, ten years ago there were barely any ISPs in Israel, while today there are at least twelve commercial ISPs, not to mention the internet services provided by the universities and colleges. The connection with America is clear: technical developments tend to follow those pioneered in the States, as does the very fact of increased internet use in Israel; most companies charge for their services in dollars, which gives the feeling that the customer is buying something American; also, America is the standard to which Israeli companies compare themselves, and links with American companies are proudly displayed.
Secondly, I shall look at colleges offering courses in hi-tech subjects, that prepare workers for jobs in the internet provision industry. To the best of my knowledge, as of today there is one dedicated institution teaching hi-tech skills – the Hi-Tech College in Herzliya – but other colleges also teach similar courses. These sites are significant because it is here that newcomers to the field undergo a process of socialisation together with the technical skills they are taught in the classroom. It is here that “foreign” knowledge is imparted to a local audience.
First, a delimitation. The concept of alternative medicine includes every way of improving your well-being that does not involve going to see a medical doctor. Obviously there are hundreds of such ways, from meditation to seeking the advice of a medium, and Iwill not be able to survey them all in detail, so I will limit myself to those therapies with clear far eastern origins that are taught in the colleges for alternative medicine, though I will clearly have words to say about the more “exotic” faces of alternative health therapies too.
Although it is a much smaller field than that of hi-tech, the 1990s were good to alternative medicine. Figures here are much harder to come by, as the various organizations and groups operating within the field are run on an ad hoc basis by interested volunteers (for instance, the Israeli Association of Acupuncturists). Nonetheless, I can say with some certainty that the various colleges for complementary medicine enjoyed an increase in enrolment of about 10-30% each year during the nineties.22 A survey conducted in the winter of 1993-4 discovered that about 6% of Israelis had consulted with an alternative or complementary therapist in the last year – this number is not very high, but one must take into account the age group of the sample (45-75) (Bernstein & Shuval, 1997).23 Indeed, Fadlon’s slighter later research points to much higher rates of use of alternative medicine – up to 33% of her respondents “had had some kind of experience with” alternative medicine (Fadlon, 1999). Somewhere in between these figures are those of the Israel National Center for Disease Control, which show a sharp increase in the adult population reporting use of alternative medicine – from 5.5% in 1994 to 10.2% in 2000 (quoted in Shuval & Mizrachi, Forthcoming).
Another significant indicator of the development of the field (in terms of its acceptance by the public) is its entrance into hospitals, where more and more doctors are taking supplementary courses in Chinese medicine, and where complementary therapists are being asked to work and research – for instance, Hadassah Hospital has a Natural Medicine Research Unit which is carrying out research into traditional Tibetan medicine, amongst other projects; and a project is underway at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv to research the efficiency of acupuncture in rehabilitating stroke patients. Indeed, “by the year 2000, over one third of the general hospitals and all four of the sick funds had established their own, officially sponsored community-oriented clinics for alternative/complementary health care in which a wide variety of alternative practitioners work” (Shuval & Mizrachi, Forthcoming).
In this field my research subjects will be teachers of Chinese Medicine and other key figures in the field (such as well-known and experienced practitioners). I shall also research the rise of the colleges for the reasons cited above in the context of hi-tech, as well as the various non-profit and interest groups that have developed with the growth of the field.
There is, then, a kind of equivalence between the two research areas. On the one hand, I shall research experts and professionals offering services and developing techniques which have some kind of application to the Israeli public. On the other, I shall investigate educational establishments belonging to each of the fields. Additionally, I shall pay special attention in both cases to leaders in their respective fields. In this context, “leaders” means pioneers, the first people to get involved, those with the most experience, those with key positions, either organisationally or as gurus.24 As such, it is also their prerogative to determine the relevant types of capital in their respective fields, to shape their fields, to create groups, and it is this which makes them particularly interesting (Bourdieu, 1989).