Socio-Economic Changes in the Kibbutz Community

A Study Concerning the Kibbutz Amir in Israel

Master's Thesis, 2018

56 Pages, Grade: 4




1.1. Research Question
1.2 Research Aim
1.3 Research Objectives

2.1 Review of Literature
2.1.1 Kibbutz community as a Utopian community model
2.1.2 Characteristics of Kibbutz Community
2.2 Theoretical Perspective
2.2.1 Theory of Change
2.2.2 Model of Equality: A Kibbutz-level Case
2.2.3 Crisis and Reform model

3.1 Method
3.2 Population and Sampling
3.3 Data Collection and Interview Process
3.4 Data Analysis
3.5 Ethical Issues
3.6 Limitations
3.7 Chapter Summary

4.1 Overview
4.2 The Kibbutzim Ideology
4.2.1 Understanding the Kibbutzim
4.2.2 Challenges
4.2.3 Changes Presented in the New Kibbutzim
4.2.4 Significant Changes
4.3 Cultural Diversity
4.3.1 Family Life
4.3.2 Equality and the Role of Men and Women
4.3.3 Privacy and Independence
4.3.4 Issue of multi-culturalism
4.4 The Economic Perspective
4.5 The Educational Perspective
4.6 Chapter Summary

5.1 Summary of this Study
5.2 Discussion of the Findings
5.2.1 The Kibbutz Ideology
5.2.2 The Cultural and Educational Diversity
5.2.3 The Economic Perspective
5.3 Implications and Future Research
5.4 Future Research
5.5 Conclusion



Verena Pichler, 2018. The Change of the Kibbutz. An Investigation into the SocioEconomic Changes Experienced in the Kibbutz Community: Kibbutz Amir, Israel

The socialist model accounts for the social values of collectiveness and equality among members of a community. Faced with social pressures and economic constraints, the Kibbutz Amir went through significant phases and as the change took effect, the traditional equalitarian model was disbanded. Therefore, the present study seeks to understand the experiences, thoughts, and perceptions of the members of the Kibbutz Amir regarding the phases and the implication of the changes. The findings from this study tend to confirm the evidence derived from the existing studies regarding the socialist model adopted by the Kibbutz Amir and the subsequent explanation on why the model is being disbanded. Additionally, evidence from this study manifests the experiences, attitude and perceptions of the members of the Kibbutz Amir regarding the operation of the Kibbutz before and after the changes.

Keywords: Kibbutz, Changes, Community, Israel, Society

Advanced level, master thesis for master exam in Human Geography, 30 ECTS credits Language: English


To start with, I would like to thank every single interviewee. Most of the interviews were conducted at the interviewee’s place, and they all welcomed me with open arms. Their interest in the subject and their kindness inspired and motivated me throughout this journey.

I would also like to express my deep gratitude to my family in Israel, for the kind support and help they offered me. Without my aunt Elisabeth Löw and my uncle Jacob Breslav I would not have been able to write this master thesis. They gave me a home and helped me to find my interviewees. Their children, Gal (and his wife Anat) and Shai made sure I had the most wonderful time in Israel and showed me the beauty of this country.

I also need to thank my family (my parents Charlotte and Peter, and my siblings Andréa-Charlotte and my brother Peter-Ludwig) for their kind support, and especially to my partner, Martin Erland Härnvall, for encouraging me to write about this topic. Accomplishing this master thesis would not have been possible without his unfailing support.

Thank you, all of you.

Verena Pichler


In Israel we can find approximately 256 different non-religious Kibbutzim and 16 religious Kibbutzim (Kedem-Tahat, 2014).

The Kibbutz Amir is a minority community based in the Northern Israel’s “Finger of the Galilee” and governed by the “Upper Galilee Regional Council” (Khnifess 10). The community is comprised of approximately 600 inhabitants who initially practiced agriculture. The community adopted a model of equality where each member collects an equal share from the collectively accumulated paychecks, notwithstanding their functions or the amount contributed to the collective pot (Mylonas, 2012). The myriad of changes on the socioeconomic perspectives of Kibbutz, with its impressive onset, offer a research space for researchers to examine the significance and implication of the Kibbutz culture in relation to academics and societies.

The change of Kibbutz from the perception of equality over the past few years has brought to an end voluntary social equality, making the Kibbutz a topic of interest for social researchers and scholars in the field of politics and economics. The Kibbutz’s principles for the internal organization came in phases. For the initial phase, the considerably small Kibbutz population, its homogenous state, and the agriculture sector’s simplicity had all the members take part in the farming-related activities. In the later phases, nonetheless, different Kibbutzim established different processes that aimed to counter most of the challenges that affected the initial social model which tied together members from those respective communities (Brichta Vigoda-Gadot., 2010).

In order to understand this research, it is inevitable to understand what a Kibbutz was, until the economic crisis in 19871 (Henriques, 2017). Due to this economic crisis and the very high expanses of the Kibbutz, many collapsed or went bankrupted between 1980 and 2000 (Kedem-Tahat, 2014). Most of the Kibbutz-founders built the Kibbutzim from scratch, and their main goal was to create an egalitarian and hardworking society (Gavron, 2000). Everything (Housing, Food, Child-care, Health-care, etc.) an individual could need, was provided from the Kibbutz and in return the individual worked for the Kibbutz. Instead of earning a salary, the members of the Kibbutz had access to a Budget. As a member of this community, you would receive several meals (served in the Dining Room) per day and your children would live with other children in the children’s house (Gavron, 2000). The children’s house served two purposes:

1. Safety: At the very beginning, it was in many Kibbutzim the only brick building. The other members stayed in tents or huts.
2. Work: If the children lived together and were taken care of, the parents were free to work.

Equality also played a very important role: in order to guarantee equality, every member received the same budget. Furthermore, when it comes to the working conditions, the members took turns. This means, that the Kibbutz secretary could work as a secretary in one year, and then change and work on the farm in another year (Gavron, 2000).

Democracy, as practiced in the Kibbutz, is not simply a government system where election of officials and decision making involves all members, as it seeks to acquire the deep recognition of the person with the whole community. Due to the voluntary form of Kibbutz membership, where any member has the freedom to depart, the application of any type of governmental coercion was limited.

Whereas no literature was found about this precis topic, all the interviewed clearly remembered, that the main change of the Kibbutz Amir occurred in the year 2000. While some members tried to oppose the implementation of some changes and decisions, the whole process was dependent on inclusivity with a small group of individuals, given the mandate to harness collective socialism. To the present day, the ability of all Kibbutz members to accept the legal democratic authority remains the prevailing setback of the Kibbutz democracy; with a decrease in the percentage of members’ identification with the Kibbutz, the outcome is a weakened authority (Marsh Stoker, 2010).

While this study seeks to examine the changes of the Kibbutz Amir since their formation up to the present era, the findings equally intend to clarify on the academic and societal significance of this study in various diverse contexts by examining how the Kibbutz assumed this form. At the onset, the outcome of the study is expected to contribute to the existing literature on social sciences through the expansion in knowledge of the social structure, economic exchanges and utilization of the environment by the members of the Kibbutz. In terms of societal significance, the change model considered by the Kibbutz community can equally be highly significant in recommending new ways of handling the prevailing challenges in modern societies across the globe, such as inequalities, as well as political and ethnic divisions.

1.1. Research Question

This study is hinged and guided by the following research question: ‘What is the perception and reaction of Kibbutz community members regarding their experiences of the changes of the old to the new Kibbutz system?’

1.2 Research Aim

By studying the aforementioned research question, the researcher seeks to primarily understand the significance of the socio-economic changes, along with the manner in which the Kibbutz interacted and navigated through the change process from the old Kibbutz system to the new Kibbutz system. The changes are examined according to their significance of collective socialism and the implication of capitalism on modern societies. The proposed thesis equally examines the changes of the Kibbutz people from a cultural and socio-economic perspective.

1.3 Research Objectives

In order to examine the socio-economic changes of the Kibbutz Amir and offer clarity on the academic and societal significance of this study topic, the following research objectives study will be pursued;

a) Establishing the factors behind the changes in the Kibbutz Amir.
b) Determining the impact of the economic crisis among the Kibbutz community
c) Examining the causes of the economic crisis that disbanded the collective/collaboration model among the members of the Kibbutz community.
d) Investigating the experiences and perception of the Kibbutz community regarding the two phases, before and after the changes.


Despite the economic crisis in 1987, and the overall economic situation of the Kibbutz, that led to the disbanded of the collective socialism among the Kibbutz community members, the social structures still exist amidst the transformation of the Kibbutz system. As such, the present chapter introduces the reader to literature relating to different theories of change and experiences of the societies subscribed to the utopian model. Moreover, the literature elaborates on the characteristics of the Kibbutz community and their survival through the two phases amidst the changes elicited over the years.

The research reviewed research on social models, utopian ideology and communism related ideas that tie groups of people together and foster unity and interrelatedness, similar to the social values that dictated the socioeconomic and political livelihoods of the people in Kibbutz. The research goal is to expand the knowledge and enhance the understanding of the changes from the utopian model to the dystopia, as elucidated by Zilbersheid, 2007. According to the studies performed by Helman, et al., 1989 and Zilbersheid, 2007, the emphasis is on the new development that swept through the Kibbutz and the transcendence of the community away from the utopia that structured a socially and economically viable society. These studies elucidate on the changes that constituted of radical transformation that had Kibbutz privatized and socialism model abolished amidst the compelling economic crisis.

2.1 Review of Literature

2.1.1 Kibbutz community as a Utopian community model

While giving clarity on what encapsulates a Utopian community model, Khnifess, 2015, argues that there are no unconditional views regarding the appearance, definition, features or goals of a utopian community. The author further states that these features significantly articulate the opinions of those that conduct research on utopia (Russell, et al., 2011). Therefore, according to Khnifess’ definition, a utopian community model may be termed as a “community defined by features such as: members join and exit the community at their personal wish and without anyone’s coercion; members anticipate their community to consider them unique people, with the community being expected to meet all the requirements of its members; the community facilitates its members with the opportunities to realize their full potentials; the members are given the opportunities to shape their future and personal destinations in life.” (Khnifess, 2015, p.5 )

Based on the above definition, it can be deduced that a utopian community enables the satisfaction of all its members in a sustainable manner, besides enabling them to get the most out of their human capacity.

In view of Kibbutzim (whose new era of change began during the late 80s), this community remains among the best examples of communities that have struggled to acquire various social and economic goals. In comparison to other types of communities, the Kibbutz community acquired significant success by showing key features and goals of “Utopian Communities” (Marsh Stoker, 2010).

According to Zilbersheid, 2007, the utopian experience evidenced by the Israel Kibbutz is not only remarkable, but also one of the best intricate model in the current times. The utopia model practiced in the earlier times was practically based on the social values, economic and political perspectives that drove the livelihoods of the people. Zilbersheid, 2007, further elaborates on the move in the earlier times, where there was a radical transformation initiated by the Israel welfare state to support the experimentation of the utopian model. In addition to these changes that took place in the late 1970s, Zilbersheid, 2007, highlights the subsequent adoption of the Kibbutzim that started to flourish in the 1990s.

In their study, Helman, et al., 1989 examine the model pursued in the Kibbutz that was tied to a free voluntary experiment. Accordingly, Helman et al., 1989, consider that the Kibbutz ideology had its links on the principles of the communism theory, founded by Karl Marx.

2.1.2 Characteristics of Kibbutz Community

In its goals and assumptions, the bylaws of Kibbutz community argue that

“Kibbutz is a free association of people for the purpose of the … existence of a communal society based on principles of public ownership of property, … equality and participation in all domains of production, consumption and education (Gamson Palgi, 1982). The Kibbutz … sees itself as a leader of the [Israeli] national insurrection and aims at establishing in Israel a Socialist society based on principles of economic and social equality” (Rayman, 1981).

The goals associated with the Kibbutz community include, but are not limited to:

a) Establish and encourage fraternity and amity among community members
b) Establish and endorse the collective ability, personal ability and personality among its members, in view of the community’s social, economic, artistic and scientific spheres (Brichta Vigoda-Gadot., 2010).

According to Brichta Vigoda-Gadot, 2010, conformity to the qualities that strongly describe utopian community was not only defined in the normative manner by the bylaws of Kibbutz, but equally closely comprehended in the day to day activities of the Kibbutz communities, which can be observed in diverse settings. For instance, equality while making decisions was considered in facilities of “direct democracy” as indicated by various mechanisms: the “overall assembly”, “decentralization” and “managerial rotation” of weight by voted committees for all social functions (Brichta Vigoda-Gadot., 2010).

Consumption equality was significantly created following the theory of “to each based on her/his needs” (this identifies the authenticity of an individual’s distinctiveness), as well as through quoting the elderly and needy individuals, based on the identical theory of equality (Amir, et al., 2005) ; (Triandis, 1988). An additional manifestation is the structuring of the Kibbutzim management in their businesses on identical theories (Mylonas, 2012). The approach was implemented with the organization of the committee that adopted the utopian model, where private property was eliminated and the community members thrive through an equal system before the adoption of the partially capitalist system (Zilbersheid, 2007).

In terms of contribution, an “activity plan” was formulated by one of the movements in 1975, in which were defined various tasks set in place for the Kibbutzim. During the initial stages of changes in the Kibbutzim, assisting immigrant towns, financing young people through groups, financing political parties and activities were among the key initiatives of the new Kibbutzim. In general, the objective of contributing to the overall Israeli population has been supported since its formation to the present era, with anticipations of engaging the Kibbutz movements in Israeli society (Kedem-Tahat, 2014).

2.2 Theoretical Perspective

This section of the study discusses various theories, methodologies, concepts and perspectives to be considered in the proposed thesis.

2.2.1 Theory of Change

The study seeks to hypothesize and reveal that the changes in Kibbutz Amir can be considered as a test case to prove the existence of theory of change within communities based on various aspects, such as economics, child care, communal ownership and family equality/inequality. The Kibbutz community demounted the frameworks that hold responsible for the lower inferior social status among the feminine gender on material inequality, on inferior assessment of duties performed by women or on personal possession of production methods (Amir, et al., 2005).The Kibbutz case is definitely an inimitable assessment case, but equally a refutation of theories basing gender equality on the optimal engagement of working women in the public domain or the optimal childcare and housework socialization.

Therefore, the likelihood of the experience of Kibbutz to agree with the theory that gender equality is dependent on the same control over surplus resources and, evidently, the modern society theory, gender equality is dependent on the complete eradication of gender isolation of all social duties, is examined, with a particular focus on work functions, whether carried out in the public or private domain, whether voluntary or compensated.

In order to understand how these changes happened, the selected goals from section 2.1.2 were chosen to form the so called “long-term-goals”. The theory of change was adapted for this thesis, since the changed already occurred. Nonetheless this theory is valid, since it offers great insights into how these changes occurred and seeks to reveal the impact the change had on the outcome (Taplin, et al., 2013).

2.2.2 Model of Equality: A Kibbutz-level Case

For more than five decades, the Kibbutz community was founded on complete equality, while distributing the accumulated income. However, lately, there have been some differential reforms being put into practice into the Kibbutz community (Khnifess, 2015). Since 2003, a significant number of Kibbutzim abandoned equality and introduced diverse levels of reforms, including ‘margin’ adjustments and significant decline inequality matters. Nonetheless, and as to be confirmed by the proposed model, Kibbutzim succeded in a social perspective (creating a community where each member is equal) regardless of the crisis that hit Israel, as indicated by Khnifess, 2015. In this light, the proposed study evaluates the potential of Kibbutz community to maintain its practicality and alleviate the cases of migration of its most productive members. For instance, members of Kibbutz community have been said not to own their residences or possess personal bank accounts, with the Kibbutz Hatzerim being the strongest antagonist towards any reforms. Accordingly, Chertok, 1988, elaborates on the history of Kibbutz Hatzerim as one of the first Kibbutz to impose restrictions on consumption and the one who pioneered the first non-elite educational philosophy.

The residents there seem to have the ideology of protecting the communal economic interest. Regardless of that, various versions of research offered a contrary interpretation, arguing that “the economic success, and particularly for the Hatzerim is what maintains its egalitarian state” (Abramitzky, 2007). This statement will be highly tested in the proposed study, such as to estimate the equality level in Kibbutz.

2.2.3 Crisis and Reform model

Kibbutz’s economic situation during the late 80s offers a distinctive perspective that facilitates an exceptional test which can enable one to assess the predictions of the model, besides accessing the factors integral to the long success of Kibbutzim and the latest change. A significant number of Kibbutzim endured a debt-crisis that significantly decreased the value of their economy and compelled them to minimize the amenities offered to members.

Similar to several other Israeli businesses during the late 70s, the different key Kibbutz movements acquired huge amounts of funds as a loan, which further compounded the economic constraints implicated in the communities (Khnifess, 2015). The Kibbutzim were said to be heavily dependent on credit compared to the rest, because their agriculture was capital intensive, while they were also expected to fund the transfer of their children from special homes to those of their parents (Khnifess, 2015). Therefore, the present study investigates the measures taken by the Kibbutzim and the Israeli government to tackle the rate of inflation that, by then, reached 400%.

The proposed study will equally examine the stabilization program and how this affected the people of Kibbutz community. Similarly, the factors that led to the 1984 crisis are also examined, along with the manner in which the fall in the global agricultural prices contributed to this menace, which was and still is a key source of income for the people of Kibbutz.


This chapter provides insights on the research design and the reasons for which the adopted research approach is appropriate for this study. Additionally, the chapter provides a detailed explanation of the recruitment of the respondents, data collection, and analysis.

3.1 Method

The methodology of the study is quite suitable, considering that the process of changes in Kibbutz is a unique economic and social phenomenon. From different angles, the Kibbutz people’s way of life is defined by incongruity, hence not necessitating a simple evaluation with cases from other cultures or nations. This study sought to understand and enhance the existing academic literature regarding the implication of changes that influenced socioeconomic activities and the social values of the Kibbutz. Therefore, these inferences were drawn from the primary data collected from the research subjects in the Kibbutz Amir context. The researcher utilized the qualitative approach to collect data from the members of the Kibbutz community, where they responded to the questions on the Kibbutz ideology, education and philosophy, and other questions that elicited corresponding themes for this study. Data collected from the research participants is analyzed and themes are drawn out from the corresponding codes. The qualitative research methodology was adopted as it is exploratory in nature and plays a crucial role in understanding the phenomenon under review (Crouch Pearce, 2015; Rubin Babbie, 2008).

Concisely, this study adopted an interview method design, given the explanation provided by Kumar, 2008, who ascertains its ability to collect primary and firsthand data and information from research subjects recruited for a research study. Moreover, Qu Dumay, 2011 and Opdenakker, 2006 highlight the advantages of the interview method in a qualitative research that provides a researcher with varied answers on similar questions posed to the respondents in a study. Data collection for this study was conducted through face to face interviews with respondents recruited from the Kibbutz community. The data collected from the respondents was analyzed qualitatively, using thematic analysis. This approach provided inferences on changes based on the experiences, attitudes and knowledge of the research subjects, as they have lived in the Kibbutz for quite a long time, which was a requirement to be part of this study.

3.2 Population and Sampling

The sampling population selected for this study involved the community members residing in the Kibbutz Amir, being selected purposively. According to Merriam, 2009, purposive sampling enables a researcher to select a sample that manifests the characteristics of the overall population. Additionally, Ritchie and Lewis,2006, elucidate that purposive sampling involves sample units “which are selected on the basis of known characteristics” that may include factors such as: experience, roles or behavior (107-108). Given the case of the availability of the community members, this sampling technique determined the researcher to recruit individuals who experienced the Kibbutzim system. These members witnessed the changes that the community went through over the years. In this regard, it is imperative to note the relevance of the assertion posed by Creswell, 2014, according to which the idea behind the qualitative research is to “purposefully select participants that will best help the researcher understand the problem and the research question" (Cresswell, 2014, p. 189).

During the recruitment process, the researcher informed the community members about the purpose and significance of the study. Moreover, the respondents were also reminded that participating in the research is voluntary and that they could opt out at their convenience. For this study, 19 research subjects were selected to participate in the face to face interviews. The participants consisted of 8 males and 11 females, current members of the Kibbutz community. 17 of the above-mentioned interviewees are members of the Kibbutz Amir, while 2 are members of the neighboring Kibbutz Elhron. After the members agreed to participate in the study, the purpose and research objectives were presented again, before they orally agreed to the informed consent form to participate in the study. Respondents were also given pseudonyms to ensure that the verbatim used in the study cannot be linked to their personal identities.

3.3 Data Collection and Interview Process

The researcher performed face to face interviews with the participants selected for the study. Wolf, 2016 attributes the significance of face to face interviews in not only yielding primary data, but also giving the researcher the opportunity to seek clarification on questions that needed probing for additional information. Accordingly, Myers, 2013 acknowledges that primary data is usually raw when collected from respondents, manifesting its richness and credibility. In this study, the face to face interviews sought to elicit thoughts, experiences and views from the research subjects regarding the Kibbutzim ideology, their socio-economic perspective and the implications of changes adopted following the abandonment of the socialism model.

The interviews were semi-structured, with open ended questions. Open ended question have the benefit of giving the researcher a deeper insight into the researched topic. Before the interview, the question were carefully selected. The interviews that took an average of 44 minutes were audio-taped and transcribed by the researcher in the context of the study. Except for one interview, all the interviews were held in English. One of the interviews was held in French and later on translated to English. The themes arising from this study were compared to the findings and models presented in the literature review.

3.4 Data Analysis

The qualitative thematic analysis was used to examine the 19 transcripts of the Kibbutz community members. Before the commencement of the analysis phase, the researcher made sure that all the transcripts were in English in cases where some transcripts had local or foreign languages. After transcribing the interviews and addressing the translation issues, such as translating transcripts with bits of Hebrew and French languages, the researcher went through the audios and the transcripts in order to assure that everything was captured.

In the analysis of the 19 transcripts, principles of the model designed by Braun Clarke, 2006, were useful in providing direction in the process. According to thematic analysis is a flexible qualitative analytical method when compared to the likes of the interpretative phenomenological analysis, discourse analysis, or narrative analysis.


1 More information about the crisis can be found here: Henriques, D. B., 2017. A First-Class Catastrophe: The Road to Black Monday, the Worst Day in Wall Street History. New York: Henry Holt and Co. Kedem-Tahat, E., 2014. The Kibbutz that was - what is left from the original Concept. Cross-Cultural Management Journal, Issue 16, pp. 315-323.

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Socio-Economic Changes in the Kibbutz Community
A Study Concerning the Kibbutz Amir in Israel
Stockholm University
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Verena Pichler (Author), 2018, Socio-Economic Changes in the Kibbutz Community, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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