At some point during 1991-92, something substantial changed in the way Israel's security agencies interrogated Palestinian detainees. The change was not in the number of detainees interrogated; on any given day in 1993, some four hundred to six hundred Palestinians continued to be interrogated by either the General Security Services (GSS) or the military (Israel Defense Forces; IDF). Overall, Israel interrogated some five thousand Palestinians every year from 1988 to 1994.(1) Nor was the change one of interrogation results: the conviction rate of Palestinians in the military courts remained above 96 percent, with most convictions based on confessions obtained during interrogation. According to official statistics, of the 83,321 Palestinians tried in military courts in the West Bank and Gaza Strip between 1988 and 1993, only 2,731, or 3.2 percent, were acquitted.(2) The security forces were still questioning a remarkable proportion of the adult male population, obtaining vast amounts of information on Palestinian social, political, and military activities.
The changes were in the type of interrogation techniques employed, the manner in which they were controlled by the state, and the way in which state representatives explained and justified their use. Early studies demonstrated that during the first years of the Palestinian uprising (1988-90) interrogators readily resorted to intense physical force, enjoying considerable leeway from their superiors. In the early years a majority of interrogation subjects were subjected to severe beatings, many of which involved broken bones and hospitalization.(3) Under the new system, however, bones rarely were broken and the intensity of direct physical force had dropped. Interrogators introduced and refined a complex package of methods including beatings that left no marks, painful body positioning, and sensory disorientation.
The second change was in the level of state control over the process. The entire interrogation system was standardized, rationalized, and overseen by the political echelon, the judiciary, and the medical profession. The right to use violence was taken away from individual security personnel and was instead nested within a wider system of hierarchical control: some agents were authorized to use violence and others were not. Most important, a system of detainee classification evolved specifying which categories of suspects could be subjected to particular methods, in increasingly precise detail.
The third change related to the way in which Israeli authorities publicly discussed interrogations. Representatives of the government, the GSS, the state attorney's office, and the military made a concentrated effort to present a new, sanitized image of interrogations. They portrayed interrogation as a controlled humane process in which violence was admittedly used, but only in a calibrated and calculated manner.
It is clear that left to their own devices, Israeli interrogators would not have changed the system. The new methods require far greater investments of time and effort to extract the same amount of information. Whereas a prisoner's resistance was once broken within a week of arrest, as of this writing the process averages more than thirty days. GSS officials often complain that the new methods "tie interrogators' hands" and periodically call for a return to the earlier regime.(4) Thus although the security services have adapted to the new methods, they did so only under protest. The change, therefore, can be explained only by reference to factors outside the security establishment.
What happened during 1991-92 to prompt the Israeli state to alter its interrogation system? Why did the methods change in the ways they did? This article's answer demonstrates the importance of new institutionalism, sociological field theory, and a set of new global forces unleashed during recent years. The case of Israeli interrogation methods highlights an underlying global mechanism that has helped to determine the contours of state violence in the late twentieth century. I argue that repertoires of violence often are the result of complex interactions among the international system, the repressive state, and the repressed population.
I do this in four ways. First, I view states as organizations and analyze their interactions with theoretical tools borrowed from the sociology of organizations. Second, I analyze the role of social value mobilization at the international level independently from other forms of mobilization. States not only are locked in a battle for greater material resources but also are engaged in a struggle for social worth, prestige, and identity, and these commodities cannot be reduced purely to economic or military concerns. Third, though "legitimacy" at both the international and the domestic level is an important resource, I view it as being simultaneously enabling and constraining. As states become more legitimate, new possibilities emerge while others are foreclosed. Legitimate states benefit from many kinds of support but are also constrained from engaging in certain kinds of violence, no matter how attractive those options may appear to military leaders. Finally, I recognize the contribution of official and unofficial nonstate global actors, including international agencies, and of political actors working outside established state structures. I apply sociological insights gained from the study of national social movements to transnational movements within and between national structures.
Varying state methods
Sociology's new institutionalism
Sociologists working in the new institutionalist tradition focus on the importance of "organizational domains" or "fields." They argue that organizations of all kinds are embedded in fields of action that define appropriate organizational structures, goals, and methods of operation.(5) In fields strictly controlled by a dominant unit, legitimate blueprints are often passed down from higher- to lower-tier organizations in the form of instructions. In fields with no clear hierarchy, however, isomorphism takes place more subtly.(6) A field's boundaries are policed by auditors who monitor compliance by reporting on individual members, publishing progress reports, and setting standards.
Organizational fields are not simply held together by a shared culture or norms but are integrated by a combination of concrete resources and ideational elements. "Hard" resources such as the auditors and their staffs are intertwined with "soft" ideational elements such as world views and interpretation. In a highly institutionalized field, determining where the material ends and the ideational begins is difficult.(7)
In response to pressures for demonstrating legitimacy, organizations develop elaborate external structures and reporting mechanisms that respond to and fend off close examinations by field auditors. Over time, organizations learn what types of response to audits are legitimate and what types of external structure they should adopt to maintain the proper aura of respectability. The emphasis on proper procedure, or organizational structure, is especially pronounced in the case of bureaucracies, which produce no clear quantifiable product.
The organizational field of states
Organizational field theory can apply even to states, some new institutionalists argue.(8) They view nation-states as organizations embedded in the largest of fields: what John Meyer and his colleagues term the world polity or international society.(9) This field has expanded dramatically since World War II to cover the entire globe, in varying degrees of intensity. It is bound together by an increasing number of international treaties, agreements, and norms, while its frontiers are policed and its members audited by a proliferating group of nongovernmental and intergovernmental bodies. The world polity has no clear physical core. Rather, its center is a "virtual" one revolving around the information production activities of bodies such as the United Nations (UN) and its agencies, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the World Bank, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Meyer argues that world polity agents constitute, construct, and legitimate nation-states through their various issue-specific discourses. They instruct states how to act and how to structure and express themselves in the guise of disinterested consultants. "We thus live in a world thick with consultants," Meyer says, with "economists who wander to the South and East to advise on the universal truths of the market economy; educators who propose to the world the universal validity of American educational models ... [and] legal and moral inspectors advancing principles of the equality of the races."(10) In the last two decades, as world polity theorists have documented in quantitative studies, a virtual explosion of non- and intergovernmental bodies has taken place, together with a dramatic rise in the number of issue-specific consultants preoccupied with auditing member states. The world polity, as a field of organizational action, has become extraordinarily dense.
The nature of the world polity is such that states are pressured to assume greater control over social activity within their boundaries and to ensure that social action of all types conforms to the proper procedures. In most cases, world polity auditors are unable to directly enforce their notions of legitimacy. As Meyer argues, "the structures of the world polity are mostly ... not actors. They produce talk -- scientific talk, legal talk, non-binding legislation, normative talk, talk about social problems, suggestions, advice, consulting talk, and so on -- not binding authoritative action."(11)
The auditors' talk influences states in a variety of ways. At times, stigmatization through critical reports is effective. At other times, the auditors infiltrate the organizational fabric of states, working with domestic collaborators to establish outposts within national bureaucracies. These outposts -- including entities such as women's agencies, environmental bureaus, or science offices -- are supported by world polity counterparts through funding and legitimation.(12)
Cultural theorist Ann Swidler suggests a third method of diffusion.(13) Social actors, she argues, often voluntarily change their behavior -- or at least appear to do so -- in response to changes in public symbols. As the environment changes, some forms of behavior become stigmatized while others become acceptable. Actors seeking to boost their reputations will want to reflect the new criteria for evaluation, even if they do not believe in the substantive value of the new symbols themselves. "What governs action in this case," Swidler points out, "is not individuals' internalized beliefs, but their knowledge of what meanings their actions have for others."(14)
Swidler's approach appears particularly promising for explaining some isomorphism within the world polity, where similarities in state structures and rhetoric often coincide with variations in the private beliefs and actual behavior of political elites. Although elites may not believe in the new global norms, they also want to avoid violating them in too obvious a manner. Hypocrisy has real effects on actual behavior because in order to appear legitimate, some real changes need to be made. The consequences of those changes, however, may have little to do with the desires of world polity auditors.
Human rights: an emerging world polity subfield
Although Meyer often refers to the world polity as a single unified entity, it is in reality a loose grouping of numerous subfields, each of which has its own rules, resources, and legitimating myths. Although it has to date been neglected by world polity theorists, the realm of state violence, like trade tariffs or budget …