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  • Remembering Work in the Collective. Life in the GDR Brigades and its Post-Socialist Tradition

Remembering Work in the Collective. Life in the GDR Brigades and its Post-Socialist Tradition

PhD Project
Research: Merve Lühr

Since the 1960s, membership in a “socialist brigade” was a compulsory element of work life to many workers in GDR. This research project investigates this special collective as a central element of sociability and social integration within East German society. The brigade will be seen as a social space and as a space of memory, making it possible to analyze the functioning of an everyday life that was required to be led collectively. The study inquires into individual scopes of action within the forced community “brigade” in order to determine the mechanisms of a society permeated by authority (“durchherrschte Gesellschaft”, Alf Lüdtke). It focuses on the memories former members of the brigade have of their work and life in the collective, and on their retrospective patterns of interpretation. Beginning with questions regarding identification with the collective and inclusive and exclusive group processes, the interviews will also focus on contacts after 1989 as well as on post socialist development of collective life. I will explore possible changes as well as social functions in present-day everyday life, especially self-positioning in the former and present brigade context.

The multi-perspective approach is based on three groups of sources: guideline based narrative interviews, brigade diaries and archival sources. Objects of investigation are brigades from different economic sectors. The samples are taken from former members of the collective, while several persons of a respective brigade are being interviewed. The interviews will be supplemented by interviews with experts. Brigade diaries were written in the context of “socialist competitions”, in which the collectives took part annually. This source will thus help reconstructing the ideal-typical image of the nexus between work, learning, and life, as it was programmatically prescribed by the SED and the Free German Trade Union Confederation (FDGB). The fact that the diaries contain testimonies of a repressive system as well as private memories of individual members makes them a valuable source.

After 1989, a process of re-interpretation took place: objects of competition turned into objects of remembrance. I will inquire into the structure and the legitimization strategies of this reversal, and I want to find out if former brigade members attribute to these diaries immaterial values like collegiality and a sense of community. Finally, archival sources disclose another level of analysis, as they put the interviews and the brigade diaries into context. Especially the estates of the respective factories will be examined, as well as documents of the “Ministry for State Security” (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit). Starting point of the study will be the brigade diaries in the collection for life history (LGA).