Posts Tagged ‘kibbutz’

I’m reading a paper on agency in the study of life-histories by Biesta and Tedder, a lot of which discusses a 1998 paper by Emirbayer and Mische called “What is Agency?”.

Agency is often defined as the human capacity to act or exert power/influence on the world and is one half of the big “agency vs. structure” debate in sociology and certain branches of psychology.  Emirbayer and Mische defined agency as a temporal interplay of habit (past-in-the-present), imagination (future-in-the-present) and judgement (present) with “the temporal-relational contexts of action”. I find it interesting because as I read I think it would be easy to substitute the word “identity” for ‘agency’ and for it retain sense. 

But today’s real Blogging task, though, was to respond to the first of the eight “key learning events” that I listed yesterday – “A Peak Experience”.

This wasn’t easy. I know I could have written about the birth of a child (and perhaps I want to hold on to that for a bit), but in the end I found myself coming back to the main learning from the six months on the Kibbutz, which was in 1985 when I was 23 years old. It was a very rich experience, and it would be easy to go on with recollections about all the vivid impressions, smells, sights, people, escapades both on the Kibbutz (a large, communal farm/village) and travels around the country. And in writing this I came across a Facebook site for ex Yad Mordechai volunteers, with a number of photos from close to that time (the ones from 1987 have people in the washed-out blue uniforms we wore). But the part I want to remember now happened about half way through my stay. I had been lucky in allocation of job and rather than dawn starts to go and pick pears or oranges, I was one of two volunteers assigned to the gardens – the communal greenery and parkland in the main compound.  This brought me in daily contact with many of the resident kibbutzniks, with the daily routine and with the living rhythm of the work done there. For all the partying and good times of the volunteer evenings, it was the work done there, and your attitude to it, that the kibbutzniks judged you by. It took me a couple of months to get it, but when I did on that morning walking across the kibbutz early on a summer morning, a big penny dropped, as did my whole outlook.  It was the first morning that I had been given the freedom to choose my own work for the day. What I realised was that this was actually an unusual chance, a reward of trust, and one I wanted to repay by doing all the right things. Although I had grown to respect the founders of the kibbutz (then already all very elderly), who had started with nothing and who had built and (in this kibbutz) fought to defend a very independent way of life, I had not enjoyed the work myself, especially the early morning starts.  So that day was my turning point. I had a strong sensation that I was really contributing to a general effort, but at the same time, as I worked through a series of jobs that no-one was going to thank me for, I had my own reward, too.  From then on, I felt much more that I belonged there (never completely, the volunteer contract is designed to have a perforated ending for easy tear off).

Coming to the end of my stay on the kibbutz

Writing this has properly revealed this dual aspect of that point for the first time. There it is again, the interplay of the collective and the individual. I don’t think one could have been there without the other.

Now it’s time to reflect on how that relates to doing the PhD.


A couple of final reflections about the nature of “identity”. The first is that it resides not statically in people but fluidly in the transaction between people and contexts in different situations at different times. Identity does not emerge in an environment, but through it.

The second, is the consideration of and work on one’s identity to be considered a self-initiative (an act of volition) or as a response to a calling that derives from the context one is in?


Biesta, G., Tedder, M. (2006) How is Agency Possible? Towards an ecological understanding of agency-as-achievement. Working Paper 5, Learning Lives Project, ESRC.

Emirbayer, M. and Mische, A (1998), “What is Agency?”, American Journal of Sociology, 103 (4),: 962-1023 

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