Q&A with visiting professor Lev Grinberg

by Aryeh Lande | 11/14/18 2:45am

Lev Grinberg is a visiting professor in the anthropology and sociology departments, hailing from Ben-Gurion University in Be’er Sheva, Israel. Grinberg has an extensive academic background in sociology and political economics, as well as Israel’s Labor Zionist movement. He has written several books touching on these subjects, as well as books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When did you first become interested in sociology?

LG: I think in high school, mainly. I was living in Argentina and there was a military regime. It was the end of the 1960s, when all of the student revolutions took place, and we were under repression. I wanted to understand why we were not a democracy. Democracy is one of my main interests in sociology — political sociology — why people cannot be represented, why they cannot have a voice and why in other places they do. My youth was a period when people started to think new things and think about revolution and then peace. I wanted to understand the process, where democracy suddenly is the rule of the game and where sometimes there is repression instead.

Can you tell me about what you are teaching in the sociology department?

LG: This is my fourth year here. I have been invited several times and am now teaching sociology. At the beginning, I started by teaching Jewish studies, mainly about Israeli society and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. That was my first invitation, by the program of Jewish studies. I knew people from the sociology department, and I like to teach sociology. My field is political economics and political sociology. I teach two courses: Sociology 49.09, “Critical Political Economy” and Sociology 79.09, “Global Inequality Protests.” In “Global Inequality Protests,” I merge my interests in political economics and political sociology. For this advanced course, students do research and then write a paper. One interesting example is the financial crisis here in the United States. It provoked a global crisis and a global movement of protest against inequality. I’m interested in that push but also in what happens after the protests. People are going to the streets because they are hungry, because they are frustrated, because they want recognition. They want representation, but that doesn’t mean going to the streets is enough. You also need to materialize politically. Not every place succeeded. In many places it was the opposite. In Sociology 49.09, “Critical Political Economy,” I explain the pitfalls of the system.

Why should students be concerned with sociology today?

LG: To understand the world. You cannot understand it if you go watch TV and hear the media. You cannot understand it if your views are only based on social media. What we are studying is the relations between human beings and social groups that are complex relations. There are relations of cooperation and conflict, and we need to understand when people want to accept each other and live together and sometimes deteriorate into conflicts and violence. It is also to study race relations, ethical relations, class relations and how they are interconnected. You need to understand what’s going on in society.

Can you summarize what you see as the biggest challenges facing Israeli-Palestinian relations?

LG: The biggest challenge is to recognize that we are equal human beings and that we have no choice but to live together in peace. Recognizing each other as human beings and also as collective communities that have their collective rights is a condition of living together. Another challenge now is to stop violence. We have been in a state of constant deterioration into violence since 2000, when the so-called “peace process” was ended. It was a very badly designed summit in the United States, the so-called “Camp David Summit,” when it became clear there was no compromise. I wrote a book about this, why this happened and why we deteriorated into more and more violence. So stopping violence is the first challenge. The second challenge is trying to create a situation in which Israelis don’t control everyday life for Palestinians. You know, Palestinians see Israeli soldiers from morning to night. They can do nothing without meeting Israeli soldiers. It can be very difficult to have a normal life when you feel like you have someone ruling your life. The moment that Palestinians feel that Israelis are ruling their life, violence will continue.

Where do you see the future of your field heading?

LG: Paradoxically, it has a bigger future. I can foresee more and more economic crises, more and more political and social crises, protests and repression. Political economy and political sociology will be here and will last a long time. By the way, political economy became a non-issue during the years of globalization. Since the 1990s, everyone abandoned political economy and started to talk about economic sociology and forgot that there is politics. And then, in the crisis of 2008, it became clear that this is a matter of politics, so it became a very relevant field. I think the combination of political economics with political sociology is the crucial element, because we have to understand how people create the crisis but also how people react to the crisis and how they try to improve their situation. In some cases they react with solidarity, sometimes by racial clashes, sometimes by democratic representation by the people’s will and sometimes by repression of the will of the people.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.