Don’t Fence Us In! Perceptions of east Germanness among the 1970s generation in Berlin

  • Claire Hyland

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


This thesis explores how Germans born in the GDR during the 1970s engage with discourses about the east when discursively constructing their identities in contemporary unified Germany. Existing academic research into east Germanness has largely focused on the idea of a collective identity, and consists of two predominant lines of argument. The first suggests that eastern identities jeopardise German unity, implying that east Germanness cannot exist alongside Germanness. The second problematises the often negative representations of easterners in the popular sphere. Taking this discourse as its basis, however, it risks overlooking the ways that easterners themselves perceive the east. By taking a constructivist approach and adopting a qualitative, interpretive methodology, the thesis gains in-depth insights into the complex ways in which easterners themselves negotiate a sense of east Germanness. The research consists of twenty in-depth interviews which were designed around the theme of consumption, a social and discursive practice common to the GDR and unified Germany, but one which has changed dramatically since unification. The findings revealed that popular perceptions do indeed contribute to the participants’ understandings. However, they presented a more differentiated and complex picture of the east, which enabled them to construct a form of east Germanness which better fits their understandings. Importantly, it appears that these perceptions are not represented in current discourses. Using generation to identify themselves as a unique group, the participants distanced themselves from negative perceptions of the east and identified with positive attributes of both the east and west. This group view themselves as engaged members of a capitalist society, who not only identify as both German and east German, but perceive their socialist upbringings to benefit them in unified Germany. Importantly, the characteristics that they attach to their identities appear to be typical of western society. Using the label of the 1970s generation, they maintain a sense of east Germanness but paint a new picture of it which is contextualised within western norms and values.
Date of Award31 Dec 2012
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorKaroline Von Oppen (Supervisor) & Marion Demossier (Supervisor)

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