Department of Sociology, McGill University
Supervisor: Eran Shor
Past decade have witnessed the proliferation of various laws restricting nongovernmental organizations worldwide. As part of this trend, some governments promote laws that ban or heavily tax funds provided to domestic NGOs by foreign states and foundations. In recent years, Israeli lawmakers attempted to adopt legislation in order to restrict the activity of NGOs dealing with human and civil rights. Israeli lawmakers have proposed both “harsh bills”, with measures that include heavy taxation and restriction on registration of NGOs, and “soft bills”, focusing mainly on demands for transparency and revealing sources of funding. I propose to explore the role of discursive repertoires adopted throughout the process of legislation in allowing or inhibiting social action, and the impact of emerging claims-making on the day to day functions of human rights NGOs and civil society more generally.
I hope to answer such questions as what image of the NGOs emerges from the legislation process and its coverage by the national newspapers and television shows? Do we see shifts in the behavior of donors or the behavior of actors that the organizations routinely engage with? Does the legislation process have an impact on the staff of the organizations on the individual level? Do we see a unified front of NGOs or is there division among them with regard to the regulations and the ways to respond to them? Do some organizations try to reach an understanding with the authorities while others leverage the struggle for mobilization of broader constituencies? Do some organizations attempt to conform to the demands of the authorities while others “radicalize”? And what are the narratives that accompany these choices?
To answer these questions I will use ethnographic field work in affected organizations, in-depth interviews with staff members and CEOs of the affected organizations and textual content analysis of Israeli newspapers, television shows and radio broadcasts reviewing the legislation.
The research proposed here can be seen as part of a sociological inquiry into institutional politics and the role of political power in producing and reinforcing social power struggles. It takes on recent calls by leading political sociologists to further investigate the role of institutional political discourse in facilitating or hampering political action by citizens. Strategies that include stigmatization, populist vilification, and incendiary rhetoric have become common features of the political culture worldwide. Sociological tools such as ethnography and in depth interviews are particularly suitable to elucidate the range of discursive repertoires in legislative and electoral politics, the mechanisms that lead political actors to select particular discursive options, and the impact of particular forms of claims-making on public debates and policies. For the students of social movements and mobilization the research offers insight into repression-contestation nexus and the dynamics of pushback between the state and the non-violent civic actors.