“Postmigrant? East Migrant?: Chances, Limitations, and Current Debates and Concepts on East German Otherness,” Roundtable

This event has passed.

@ 9:00 am - 11:30 am

Sponsored by the Center for German and European Studies.

Currently, Germany sees multiple debates about national identity, specifically the role East Germans and migrants (to Germany and within Germany) play in this nation that has been unified for 32 years now. This workshop brings together scholars with backgrounds in Sociology, German Studies, and Anthropology to discuss new approaches to analyze and deal with these challenges. Use the form at the bottom of this screen to register for the event.


1.Kathleen Heft, DeZim Berlin (Germany): Migration Analogies and Ossifizierung. Approaches to Dealing with East German Otherness

Germany’s unification dates back more than 30 years and unified Germany has come a long way in its endeavor to “grow together” as a nation and society. Nonetheless, persistent differences between East and West Germans – be they material, political or even imagined – occupy German academic and public discourse to this day. Yet, there is a lack of theorization and conceptualization of ‘the East’ or rather ‘East German Otherness’ in academic and media discourse. In a first step I provide an overview of current efforts to conceptualize ‘the East German’ or rather ‘East German Otherness’ within a unified, post-migrant Germany. I focus on the highly contested perspective of Migrant Analogies and on discourse about the ‘Brown East’ (Nazi East). In a second step I develop further existing discourse analytical works on the construction of ‘the East’ in media discourse and propose a new conceptual framework for understanding the construction of difference between East and West Germany. I therefore draw on concepts from post- und decolonial theory, some of which can be adapted to analyze and theorize practices of Othering of ‘the East’ within the German post-unification context. The presentation concludes with the introduction of the concept Ossifizierung (Easternization) and a discussion of its benefits and limitations.

Kathleen Heft is a cultural studies scholar and research associate at Deutsches Zentrum für Integrations- und Migrationsforschung (DeZIM-Institut). She holds her PhD from Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and her Diplom from Europa-Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). Her research focuses on East Germany in media and public discourse, discourses and practices of Othering, migration to the GDR and migrants in East Germany as well as East German and migrant in German elites. Her theoretical background lies in gender studies, intersectionality, and postcolonial theory and its adaptations for post-socialist contexts. Her PhD-thesis Kindsmord in den Medien. Eine Diskursanalyse ost-westdeutscher Dominanzverhältnisse was published by Budrich Academic Press in 2020. Her latest publication is the co-edited volume Feministische Visionen vor und nach 1989 on gender, media, and activist perspectives from East and West Germany before and after unification.

2.Heiner Schulze, University Nordhausen (German): Critical Westness: Silent Norms and (West) German Perspectives

More than 30 years after Re-Unification East Germany still has a branding problem. Media and political discourse in seemingly unified Germany treats the eastern part of the nation like a curiosity, the odd cousin seeking attention or the bad example black sheep of the family, who somehow refuses to go away. The presentation lays how East Germany is constructed in German political and media discourses through four different lenses. Even the few positive narratives about the East, as can be found in far right wing discourse for example, are generally a west-centric instrumentalization and less an emancipative perspective on the East. This narrow perspective shapes not just the East, but constructs and stabilizes also a specific image of „West“. The latter is the unreflected „silent norm“ against which East Germany becomes „othered“ without ever acknowledging that not just „East German“ is a particular history and experience, but that „West German“ should be seen as particular as well instead of simply being understood as the default – it needs a perspective of Critical Westness to tell the full story/ies of Germany.

Heiner Schulze studied social sciences at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and spent time as a student and researcher at Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle in France, the New School for Social Research in New York City as well as the University of Agder in Norway . After having worked for years as researcher at Hochschule Nordhausen in rural East Germany, he is now working at the Gender and Technology Centre of the Berliner Hochschule für Technik. His work centres on social structures and inequality, processes of diversification in institutions, as well as questions of memorialisation, in particular in relation to East Germany, queer histories, und HIV/AIDS.

3.Daniel Kubiak, Humboldt University Berlin (Germany): East German Identity: A Never-Ending Story

4.Thomas Prenning, Hochschule Zittau/Görlitz (Germany(: Pastors’ Children in the GDR: On the Long-Term Nature of Habitual Imprinting

Children of pastors found themselves in a highly ambivalent situation within the GDR. On the one hand, they were privileged in terms of their families, since their fathers’ academic title and social status gave them a habitus-specific affinity for education, which made a later academic career very likely. On the other hand, they were disadvantaged by the state on account of their social background and for the most part were forced to leave the education system already after secondary school. As members of the intellectual class, they were more or less consistently excluded from higher education. This structural contradiction strongly influenced the habitus of this specific group. I present the main findings of my sociological project based on 32 interviews with children of pastors. One result of this study is the following: The party-political attack on the status of pastoral families did not lead to its weakening. Instead, it favored the establishment of a collective identity in the sense of a group-charisma, defined by tradition, which made it possible for the children of pastors to oppose this attack. Despite all obstacles, these children strove for the preferred educational qualifications – especially after 1989. The attempt to force a socio-structural resettlement did not lead to a real change of position in that children of pastors took up classical working-class jobs or renounced higher education without resistance. Bearing this habitual resilience in mind, children of pastors can be considered as privileged outsiders (Elias) compared to other disadvantaged groups in the GDR. The reconstruction of this specific habitus on the basis of interpretation pattern analysis («Deutungsmusteranalyse» by Oevermann) enables a differentiated
analysis of the overall social developments before and after 1989 and focuses on the heterogeneity and the conflictual nature of these processes.

Thomas Prennig (Dr. rer. pol.), born in 1983, is a sociologist of culture and lives in Berlin. He studied sociology at the Free University of Berlin and earned his doctorate at the Max Weber College in Erfurt. His dissertation, “Pastor’s Children in the GDR. Zwischen Privilegierung und Diskriminierung” was published in 2018 and deals with the role and persistence of interpretive processes in times of fundamental social change, using the example of German unification. Since 2021, he has been working as a research associate at the TRAWOS Institute of the Zittau Görlitz University of Applied Sciences in various research projects on, among other things, the specifics of rural peripheral areas and structural path dependencies in the course of social transformation processes. His research focuses on qualitative social research, transformation research and habitus & biography research. He is particularly interested in the cultural interface between structure and practice. His most recent publication addressed position- and phase-specific manifestations of racism in East Germany: Entangled Racism. Experiences with Racism during the GDR, Reunification, and in Contemporary East Germany. In: PERIPHERY. Special Issue 2: DDR Postcolonial. Issue 164(2) (forthcoming 2023).

5.Lisa Steiner, UW-Madison (USA): Juli Zeh’s Übermenschen and Unterleuten – the Rural East as a Literary Setting for Current Debates on Home and Belonging

6.Leonie Schulte, University of Oxford (UK): Migrant Integration Policy in Contemporary Germany: Language as Unifying Cultural Practice and the Myth of the National Community

Following German reunification, new immigration and citizenship policies were introduced including a nationwide “integration” policy for adult migrants and refugees. Over the last three decades these policies have been re-designed to include rigorous language-integration requirements for all newcomers, which act as major barriers to citizenship, permanent residency, higher education and labor market entry. Drawing on ethnographic research in Berlin (2017-2019), this paper traces the historical development of Germany’s language-integration policies for refugees and migrants, while considering the ways in which notions of national language practices invoke images of a united Germany into which newcomers are expected to integrate.

Dr Leonie Schulte is a linguistic anthropologist and anthropologist of migration. She is an ESRC Postdoctoral Fellow at University College London and an incoming Assistant Professor of Anthropology at UW-Madison (2023). She is also an affiliated researcher at the School of Anthropology and Museum of Ethnography at the University of Oxford, where she completed her PhD in 2021. Taking Germany as a core field site, her work broadly explores themes of language policy, migration and displacement, language ideologies, time and temporality, labour and bureaucracy.