The structured frustration of cultural aspirations: selection to elite military units, symbolic violence, and trauma

Gad Yair*, Ohad Aviram

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper tells a story of Israeli male high schoolers who spend their adolescent years preparing for service in elite military units in the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). They dream of serving in special units and begin training at 15 or 16 years old. After years of taxing preparations, at the age of 17 they arrive at the grueling military exams. They are at their peak–potent and energized, motivated, and in the best shape of their lives. Yet most high schoolers return from the examinations psychologically broken. Having imagined their future selves as virile commandos, they return humiliated for cowering during the tough assignments. The paper draws on interviews with 40 adults who failed the exams 10 to 15 years after the event. Using Bourdieu’s theory of symbolic violence, it shows that youthful failure at 17 continues to send debilitating messages for years after the event. Those who fail continually tell themselves that they are not worthy, not good enough, that they do not have enough character or strength. Consequently, they abandon possible life trajectories and possible selves. They surrender to the exam, and then remain prisoners of a cultural ethos they have failed to embody. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. (Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities).

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)43-59
Number of pages17
JournalBritish Journal of Sociology of Education
Volume44
Issue number1
DOIs
StatePublished - 2023

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.

Keywords

  • failure
  • future aspirations
  • high school
  • military exams
  • symbolic violence

Fingerprint

Dive into the research topics of 'The structured frustration of cultural aspirations: selection to elite military units, symbolic violence, and trauma'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this