Dissertation Abstracts

(An)Other Travel - Movement in Time and Space of "MachsomWatch" Activists

Author: Aviram, Hanna , hanna.aviram1@gmail.com
Department: Sociology and Anthropology
University: Tel-Aviv Univ., Israel
Supervisor: Prof. Hanna Herzog
Year of completion: 2014
Language of dissertation: Hebrew

Keywords: social movements , travel , MachsomWatch , women
Areas of Research: Political Sociology , Social Classes and Social Movements , Women in Society


"Movement", both human motion in space and social action, embodies an inherent potential for change. Social movements aspire to change their environment, and personal mobility expands the "self" of travelers through an encounter with places and subjects who themselves might also be moving in space. Therefore an active member in a socio- political movement may travel in a specific social-geopolitical space and become an "other" while participating in social-political activities. The term "travel", here, serves as a metaphor to describe the process and change experienced in the context of movement in space and time.
MachsomWatch (literally Checkpoint Watch), which the field research of this study addresses, is a social-political organization in which these two spheres of discourse – human movement in a specific spatial region and social-political movement seeking political change – merge. MachsomWatch (MW) is a group of Israeli women human rights activists who oppose Israeli military control over the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. Activists in MachsomWatch travel each time for a short period from their homes to Israeli army checkpoints in the occupied Palestinian West Bank and then return to their homes. At the end of each such visit participants write a shift report which is distributed among the MachsomWatch activists via the organization's reporting network.
My position in the field as an activist and researcher dictates the structure of the current ethnography.
The research hypothesis is that "travel" is a multi-dimensional and multi-combinatorial collage of physical movement, cognitive- mental movement, geo- political-social– cultural space, time, practices, methods and instruments through which movement is conducted in space and time. Descriptions of any specific instances of travel are always partial and positioned.
The research methodology is based on the idea of research "on the move", suggested by the New Mobilities Paradigm (Sheller & Urry, 2006), which integrates into the social processes the utilization of time–distance compressing technologies. Two assumptions are derived from the New Mobilities Paradigm: One is that a subject has motility, fixity and mobility, and that these qualities are on a continuum, so that interpretation of movement on that continuum is dependent on historical - social - economic – political context. Another assumption is that the right to travel is not equally distributed among groups and societies. Tracking "travel" requires "thick description" (Geertz, 1973, p 6) and for this purpose I used three types of research tools: a) 54 participant observations; b) 22 travelogues - chronological arrangement of shift reports written by an activist, along with pertinent correspondence on the organization’s Internet networks; c) 24 semi-structured in-depth interviews.
This dissertation conceptualizes the "travel" of MW activists as "political tourism". In this "travel" knowledge of space is acquired through repeated movement: the traveler experiences cognitive changes that distance her from the "home", but she does not become "other". It seems that the "critical condition", developing understanding and insight about the social-political situation, creates a threshold position: alienation regarding the own society, which is the political tourist’s point of departure, along with non-identification with those whose struggle she supports.