- The Arab Minority in Israel; Challenges and Limits in Recent Disciplinary Approaches
Recent years have seen a considerable surge in academic work published on the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel (PAI). Strikingly, the growing interest has come from a variety of disciplines in the humanities and social sciences, including political science, security studies, sociology, and history.1 Given the vast array of pertinent questions that have arisen in relation to the Arab minority over the last decade, it is not surprising that the study of this minority has drawn interest from numerous directions. This multidisciplinarity—not to be conflated with interdisciplinarity—carries with it considerable potential for comprehensive knowledge accumulation that transcends traditional boundaries by linking diverse analytical approaches and perspectives.2 There is little doubt that political scientists and sociologists can learn from information gathered by historians, while the latter’s interpretation of historical events can improve by being informed by comparative theories developed by disciplinary social scientists. Linking contributions from different disciplines can facilitate both increasing our knowledge of detail as well as improving our ability to make sense of the [End Page 124] details and gain a better understanding of the general picture. Posed in different terms, incorporating insights from multiple disciplines increases the potential for better seeing the forest for the trees.
Multidisciplinary knowledge production is by no means an easy feat. In order for the work of specialists in one discipline to be relevant for experts in other disciplines, several issues need to be resolved. At the very least, scholars from diverse disciplinary backgrounds need to understand (although not necessarily share) each other’s research objectives, concepts, methods of research and analysis, and theoretical formulations. Also critical is a shared understanding of the logic of explanation and causal inference even if the procedures by which research is conducted differ by discipline. Such a common ground is essential if the overarching result of cumulative work from multiple disciplines is—as this reviewer firmly believes it ought to be—to enable scholars and students interested in the Arab minority in Israel to make sense of the vast information on the topic.
The quest for trans-disciplinary communication need not come at the expense of knowledge created in one’s own discipline. Indeed, the days when case-specific expertise, or area studies, on the one hand, and theoretically minded disciplinary research, on the other hand, were thought of as incompatible are now long gone.3 Scholars do not need to belong to one of these two camps. There is no need to sacrifice in-depth investigation of the case to be discipline-relevant or, conversely, eschew discipline-based theoretical formulations in order to be related to the real world. Rather, advancing knowledge is best served by drawing on both scholarly traditions. More specifically, to contribute to knowledge accumulation, multidisciplinary research generally needs to meet at least the first two of the following objectives: (i) gather new information on the case; (ii) apply disciplinary-based knowledge, comparative and theoretical, to provide a new understanding of the case (that will be of interest to scholars from other disciplines); and (iii) use their case-based knowledge to generate theoretical insights relevant for their discipline. The most valuable multidisciplinary scholarship will achieve all three, as reciprocal contributions between discipline and case expertise are not only possible, but also desirable in multidisciplinary research.
Assessing how the three books reviewed here meet the “multidisciplinary challenges” is the focus of the rest of this article. These books were written from within three different academic domains: security studies (Schueftan), political science (Jamal), and history (Pappé). The review of these works reveals that there is still a long way to go before successful multidisciplinarity can be universally proclaimed in the study of the PAI. [End Page 125]
That each of them...