Hi-Tech and Alternative Medicine: The Role of the New Middle-Class in the Globalisation of Culture Student: Nicolas John Supervisor: Dr. Eva Illouz

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Research Questions

By definition, involvement in the globalisation of culture, in the sense of importing and diffusing it, is something we should expect of the new middle-class. Of central interest in this project is the way that the new middle-class performs this task, to what ends, and with what consequences. Taking ISPs and Chinese medicine as fields in Bourdieu’s sense, that is as “space[s] of conflict and competition”, as sites of struggles over meaning and capital, I can ask the socio-historical question of how the new middle-class establishes its dominance in them (Bourdieu & Wacquant, 1992, p. 17). Further, seeing them as part of the larger field that is Israeli society, I can ask what this dominance means in terms of the use of globalisation by the new middle-class in Israel’s vicious culture wars, and to what extent the two fields I shall research can teach us about the formation of a global new middle-class, or at least Israeli membership in it.
Put another way, what do the fields of ISPs and Chinese medicine tell us about how the Israeli new middle-class tries to control processes of globalisation? What are the consequences of new middle-class involvement? In what ways do the fields reflect new middle-class values? Armed with answers to these questions, I shall be able to ask what it means to talk about the new middle-class in Israel as part of a global class. What can Israeli new middle-class membership in a global middle-class tell us about globalisation in Israeli society? Can we really talk about the Israeli new middle-class as part of a global class, or does the Israeli milieu exert a greater claim on identity than more transnational “habitats of meaning” (Hannerz, 1992)? Alternatively, is the dichotomy between “Israeli identity” and “transnational identity” a false one, and is the new middle-class trying to turn its transnational identity into a new kind of cosmopolitan, more global Israeliness, as part of its ongoing Kulturkampf with “localists” of different kinds?


The questions I shall hope to answer require research in three main directions, which I propose to tackle in the following order:
Firstly, I shall carry out historical research into the development of ISPs and Chinese medicine in Israel during the nineties. This historical work is essential if I am to understand how various groups (attempt to) exercise control over the processes at hand. Particularly important to this research will be identifying what fell by the wayside and for what reasons. In other words, I shall not be taking hi-tech and alternative medicine in Israel as unproblematised finished products with predetermined trajectories, but rather shall examine the way that each became as it is today whilst paying special attention to conflicts of interest and their resolutions. In relating the stories of hi-tech and alternative medicine I shall be relying on a number of sources: firstly, data of the sort quoted above with regard the growth of hi-tech and alternative medicine, which will be gleaned from various governmental and non-governmental sources: such sources include the Central Bureau of Statistics, the Bank of Israel, government ministries such as the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Communications, industrial and alternative health organisations in Israel and abroad, and other such sources as were quoted on page Error: Reference source not found above; secondly, I shall collect a selection of newspaper articles and features throughout the 1990s dealing with the two cases: I shall search the three main Israeli dailies for features on ISPs and Chinese medicine, as well as reviewing publications specific for each field (Globes and Chaim Acherim); and thirdly, I shall conduct interviews with leading figures in both fields (founders of the alternative medicine colleges, for instance, or senior managers in established ISPs), with the aim of extracting information.
Secondly, I shall be interested in characterising both fields as they appear today and as they themselves put across their different agendas. To this end I shall be interested in brochures, pamphlets, internet sites and marketing material distributed by actors in both fields. Interviews given to the media also fall into this category of presentation of self.25 In such sites I shall be able to see which messages each field is attempting to put across, what it emphasizes, and conversely, what is left out or de-emphasised. The findings here should resonate with those of the historical research, for in both cases I will be trying to point to the ways in which the fields are actively shaped by certain interested parties.
Thirdly, I shall conduct in-depth interviews with leading figures from both fields. Here I shall be interested in learning about some of the people at the forefront of the processes of hybridisation that this research aims to problematise. I shall hope to compile a socio-economic profile of the interviewees, as well as asking them questions about their lifestyle (in terms of taste, leisure and cultural activities, vacations, and so on), and educational and military backgrounds.26 I shall also specifically ask them about their work in relation to America/the Far East, as part of an attempt to gauge the presence and extent of a possible transnational identity. The interviewees will be asked to characterise their field within the context of Israeli society, and to account for certain local features. By this stage of the research I shall be familiar with the respective histories of hi-tech and alternative medicine, and, in the interviews, I will be able to refer to specific examples of the successful or unsuccessful use of power on the part of the new middle-class.

Expected Contributions

By problematising the way that cultural imports are moulded to fit their new surroundings in terms of the interests of a particular group, I hope to elucidate the connection between the new middle-class and globalisation. Doing so within the Israeli context has the potential to offer a new perspective on Israel’s infamous trio of deep divides – secular/religious, Ashkenazi/Mizrachi, and Jewish/Arab – by showing how globalisation serves as a resource for influencing the shape of Israeli society, a resource which lies, I hypothesise, mostly in the hands of people in the first half of those three dichotomous relationships. My research will offer an interesting approach to Israel’s process of globalisation from a viewpoint less often adopted in Israeli sociology – that of the middle class, understood in terms of its culture – rather than taking an institutional or elite perspective.
In addition – and I think that here lies my strongest possible contribution – by directly linking the new middle-class with globalisation I might be able to suggest a new definition of the new middle-class which will specifically refer to its role in the globalisation of culture, and which will take into account the long-recognised divisions within that class.
Finally, research on globalisation processes that spread out from the east are much less researched than those that begin in the west, and this despite the fact that claims for the multi-directionality of global cultural flows are very commonly made. By researching alternative medicine, I shall be contributing to a relatively unstudied area in terms of globalisation. Further, this study will provide a novel way of studying phenomena held to be illustrative of contradictory trends. In particular, by researching fields which can be variously described as modern, postmodern, or even anti-modern, I shall contribute to the discussion on the relationship between modernity and globalisation.

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1 This research does not deal with “Americanisation” per se, but rather sees it as but one aspect of globalization. The former refers to the global spread of specifically American ideas, products, and so on, while the latter is broader in scope, and includes Americanisation within it. Insofar as this is the case, theoretical comments about globalisation are equally applicable to Americanisation.

th This suggests that we view the new middle-class in Israel similarly to Asian versions of the new middle-class, where the emphasis is on the “new” – groups appeared that had not really existed before. There too countries underwent processes of liberalisation and reduced state involvement in the economy and other spheres of life. This is well demonstrated in Robison and Goodman’s collection of articles (Robison & Goodman, 1996). It can also be seen in the ways in which internet entrepreneurs in countries other than western, post-industrial states are dependent on the state withdrawing from certain fields of activity, and in privatising parts of the telecommunications industry (Wolcott & Cagiltay, 2001).

2 One estimate claims that the Israeli new middle-class covers about a third of all employees (Ram, 1999a).

3 Kriesi’s is but one voice among many in this regard (see, for instance, Betz, 1990, 1992; Day & Robbins, 1987; Gusfield, 1994; Larana, Johnston, & Gusfield, 1994; Mattausch, 1987), though the sense in which their involvement is class involvement is also debated (for instance, see Buechler, 2000).

4 Motti Regev (Regev, 1997) demonstrates this ambiguity within the new middle-class in an article on pop music videos in Israel. He identifies four different types of interests in the development of Israeli music videos: organisational interests (record company management seeing videos as something they “have to do” in order to “keep up with the Joneses” (i.e., the Americans)); professional interests (young producers using videos as a rung on their career ladders); artistic-oppositional interest (video-makers seeing them as subversive, as an agent for change); and cultural capital interests (critiques who are “interested in transforming their connoisseurship of and refined taste in pop/rock culture into a ‘high status cultural signal’” (p. 236)). Regev does not say so himself, but it should be clear from the above that all four parties represent the new middle-class in its various guises.

5 Perhaps this might be seen as a “fourth wave” to be added to Szelenyi and Martin’s earlier historiography (Szelenyi & Martin, 1988).

6 Leslie Sklair, for instance, documents the discourse and practices of a group he identifies as crucially important in the globalisation of capitalism, namely the Transnational Capitalist Class (Sklair, 2000).

7 Examples of such research are provided by Hannerz’s essays on Stockholm (Hannerz, 1996, chapter 13) and Amsterdam (chapter 12), or Friedman’s work on the Congolese sapeurs – men who travel to Paris to buy designer clothes, and then flaunt them when they arrive back in Congo (Friedman, 1990).

8 For instance, that of Ram, who studies the effects of globalisation on Israeli society in terms of globalisation and localisation, that of Azaryahu (the local adaptation of McDonald’s to the Israeli context), Diamond (Israeli local Jewishness versus American global individualist secularism), and indeed any of the contributors to the Israel Studies special edition on the Americanisation of Israeli society (Azaryahu, 2000; Diamond, 2000; Ram, 1999b).

9 One could quote a large number of writers who express this in slightly different ways. Poly Toynbee, for instance, employs a metaphor of strawberry milkshake, oozing its way across to the world, to express the way globalisation is commonly perceived, before problematising such an approach (Toynbee, 2000). In more academic terms, Howes writes the following: “… the assumption that […] goods, on entering a culture, will inevitably retain and communicate the values they are accorded by their culture of origin must be questioned. When one takes a closer look at the meanings and uses given to specific imported goods within specific ‘local contexts’ or ‘realities’, one often finds that they goods have been transformed, at least in part, in accordance with the values of the receiving culture” (Howes, 1996, p. 5).

10 A similar summary appears in Illouz and John (Forthcoming).

11 There are remarkable similarities between the way Israel developed into a fully-fledged capitalist society and processes undergone by South East Asian countries, and particularly in terms of the centrality of the rapid growth of an educated middle-class, the state, the speed of industrialization, and so on (Robison & Goodman, 1996).

And this, of course, is entirely in keeping with globalisation theory (Robertson, 1992).

12 Much of this activity goes through Salon Mazal, a community centre in south Tel Aviv, where I met Roni Armon, a leading Green activist and anarchist, whilst conducting research for a related project (Illouz & John, Forthcoming).

13 In this regard, though, it is often pointed out that Weizman, and others with similar views, tend not to direct the same criticism towards the Israeli army’s use of American fighter planes and machine guns.

14 This is not to say that each field is not characterised by struggles – for instance that between the television cable companies and Bezeq over the right to supply internet services, and that between alternative practitioners and the biomedical establishment – but that those struggles are not related to globalisation per se.

15 It is of course more complicated than that: the neo-Zionists look inward because they don’t like the look of the outside; the post-Zionists look outward for the opposite, but parallel, reason. It is impossible to look outward without reference to the inside, and vice versa. I am also aware of the transnational connections between religious groups in Israel and their counterparts in the United States.

16 The question of how new today’s globalisation really is, is frequently discussed in the literature, and especially by David Held. A favourite conundrum is that global trade today can be shown to be no greater than it was one hundred years ago, at the peak of the age of empires (Held, 2000; Held, McGrew, Goldblatt, & Perraton, 1999).

17 This is testified to in conversations with senior lecturers in Israeli colleges for alternative medicine. In an introductory lecture on Chinese medicine, “criticism” was aimed directly at hi-tech workers, who work such “unnaturally” long hours. Note also that the leading “new age” magazine in Israel is entitled Chaim Acherim, it being clear which kind of life it is offering an alternative to.

18 The number of departures from Ben Gurion Airport in 1989 was about 1.75m, reaching over 4.6m in 2000 (source: Central Bureau of Statistics).

19 From 50,000 in 1995, through 250,000 in 1997, to 1.1m in 2000 (source: International Telecommunications Union Yearbook of Statistics (2001)).

20 On the other hand, there are large groups who have no contact with the internet, be it for ideological or financial reasons, namely, the Haredim, and much of the Israeli Arab population.

21 In studying the globalising aspirations of the Fortune 500 companies, Sklair (2000) interviewed senior executives for similar reasons.

22 Based on information relayed to me in conversations with managers in some of the colleges. They added that their numbers have now reached a plateau.

23 Research in other countries shows rates of 13.6% (England), and about 40% (USA), though comparisons are notoriously difficult to make because different researchers include different things in their definition of complementary medicine (Eisenberg et al., 1998; Thomas, Nicholl, & Coleman, 2001).

24 Gurus, of course, are to be found in both hi-tech and alternative medicine.

25 I shall restrict myself to the written media, and to Israel’s three main dailies. In all instances, media material will be found via keyword archival searches.

26 The issue of military background is likely to be more pronounced in the field of hi-tech, as the army has always been at the forefront of technological development in Israel.

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