Being civil is not enough:

On practices of citizenship of women living in poverty in Israel

Gal Levy and Riki Kohan-Benlulu

Published in Issue 1.2 // Retrospectives

Keywords: women in poverty, women life story, civil/civic citizenship, home, housing rights

Abstract:

The public housing crisis became politically salient during and after the 2011 Tents Protest in Israel. Alongside demands from the young largely Jewish middle class to restore the economic order, many women in poverty took to the streets hoping to affect a change in the neoliberal course. This protest extended beyond the summer of 2011, and it was there where Gal the ‘researcher’ and Riki the ‘activist’ met. During our joint endeavour we wondered; how do women in poverty become activists and what incentivizes them to turn their personal struggle into a political collective act? This paper stems from our decision to bring together our respective knowledge and experience to the benefit of the struggle. Using life stories as our method we track the personal histories of women in poverty in order to better understand their journey away and towards home, and how the interpretation and conceptualization of their predicament has shaped their struggle. Theoretically, we employ the distinction offered by James Tully between civil/modern and civic/diverse modes of citizenship. By bringing the women’s voices to the fore and listening to what they say, we demonstrate first, how being disappointed by trailing the civil path to rights, they differ to the civic mode of citizenship; and, second, how by diversifying their forms of citizenship performance they re-constitute themselves as worthy, deserving citizens. We thus argue against common interpretations of people in poverty as irrational, apathetic and passive citizens, lacking the right(s) repertoire to fight against their social marginalization and being unworthy of their legal entitlements as citizens.

Gal Levy is a senior teaching faculty member at the Open University researching citizenship and activism. Riki Kohan-Benlulu is an activist of the Not Nice group and a leading member of the Forum for Public Housing. This article was made possible by our participation at The Oral History Lab at Tel Aviv University.

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