'From badness to sickness': The role of ethnopsychology in shaping ethnic hierarchies in Israel

Nissim Mizrachi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article explores the role of the psychological sciences in depoliticising processes of ethnic demarcation and marginalisation within the Jewish population in Israel. It shows how the psychological sciences have provided the scientific foundation by which cultural domination and subordination have been essentialised. The study traces the ways in which ethnopsychological discourse has changed its contours over time. Early ethnopsychological discourse provided an overt link between the 'cultural backwardness' and 'psychological impairment' of the Mizrahi Jew. In light of broad social and political transformations, in the more recent model the overt ethnic signifier was silenced, and the Mizrahi 'impaired mind' appeared to be detachedfrom its ethnic roots while being attributed to the same ethnic population. Both ethnopsychological forms have focused on the individual's 'special needs' and 'inherent psychological impairment', obscuring the role of social and political forces in shaping social gaps in Israeli society and reinforcing the hegemonic discourse of nurture. The latter has provided a negative mirror image of the modern Ashkenazi secular Israeli few following Western cultural models of self-control as the universal index of health and progress. This study is based on both primary and secondary sources as well as on my in situ observations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)219-243
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Identities
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2004


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