Linguistics Colloquium: Erez Levon

19/01/2021 - 14:00 - 15:30

Erez Levon, University of Bern

Title: Negotiating subjective conflict: Language, belonging and same-sex desire in Israel

The majority of research to date on conflicts between sexuality and other intersecting affiliations has been grounded in a theory of identity synthesis, or a belief in the necessity for individuals to integrate their multiple constitutive aspects of self into an internally consistent whole. For example, Yip (1999, 2002) describes how non-heterosexual Catholics overcome an “intractable opposition” between their sexuality and normative articulations of their faith by reinterpreting religious doctrinal strictures, thus enabling them to “harmoniously incorporate” their sexual and religious identifications into a unified conception of self (see also, e.g., Yearhouse 2001; Keenan 2012; Toft 2012). In this talk, I suggest that identity synthesis need not be the only solution. Rather, I contend that individuals can opt to maintain multiple conflicting identifications in tension. Building on recent developments in social psychological theories of the self (Hermans et al. 1992; Hermans 2001), I argue for a more holistic and multi-faceted treatment of sexual subjectivity – one that recognises the variability in positioning and alignment that individuals adopt in the course of their daily lives. In doing so, I aim to go beyond a zero-sum approach to sexuality-linked conflict so as to better document the variety of strategies individuals draw upon to negotiate everyday dynamics of oppression.

My arguments are based on two case studies of subjective conflict as it relates to sexuality in Israel/Palestine. One is the story of Igal, a man from Jerusalem who lives his life according to Orthodox Jewish proscriptions but who also seeks out and has sex with other men. The second is the story of Louie, a Palestinian gay man who lives as an undocumented migrant in Tel Aviv. In both cases, I describe how the men use a variety of linguistic and other social semiotic strategies to mediate the relationship between their sense of cultural/communal belonging and their sexualities. I demonstrate how the men do not work to resolve the perceived incompatibility between these identifications, but instead use language to help them inhabit a space of identificational conflict. In the talk, I describe why the men’s behaviour is important for our understanding of the complexity of sexuality as lived experience, and that it has broad ramifications for our models of how intersectional subjectivities are instantiated in interaction.  

 

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