Commemoration labour as a mechanism of symbolic violence exercised upon national widows

Smadar Ben-Asher, Ya’Arit Bokek-Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This study aims to examine the experience of national widows, who are expected by the state to practice commemoration labor. We claim that the state puts pressure on the widows, either openly or covertly, to perform commemoration labor, thereby depriving them of their right to private grief suited to their personality and needs. It is further claimed that the demand on the widows for commemoration labor corresponds closely to the phrase coined by Bourdieu “symbolic violence”. Fifteen national widows whose husbands were killed in military action or by terrorism recounted in-depth interviews their social and emotional experiences in relation to bereavement. We show how these widows are expected to serve the State of Israel in collective ceremonies as commemoration torchbearers. The symbolic violence exercised upon the war widows to play their role in rituals as stipulated by the state is manifested in the system of pressure exerted on them to take part in the reproduction of militaristic Zionist ideology. In response to this symbolic violence, widows employ various covert strategies to simultaneously maintain both the visible public representation of the supremacy of sacrifice and the hidden internal representation of their personal rehabilitation needs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-240
Number of pages16
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

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  • Commemoration labour
  • glorified bereavement
  • grief
  • national widowhood
  • symbolic violence


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