Social Heritage: Post-Socialist Organizations of Former GDR Production Collectives – Traditionalization and New Collectivization

Project Manager: Ira Spieker
Researchers: Oliver Wurzbacher, Luise Eberspächer, Claudia Dietze
Duration: 02/2020-12/2022

The liquidation and privatization of socialist production plants was one of the most fundamental changes that accompanied the post-1989 transformation of social, economic and political life. Intended as a transition process on an institutional level that sought to integrate the socialist GDR and its planned economy into the democratic, market-oriented system of the BRD, it had direct effects on the lives of former GDR residents. For many, the experience of the new economic system led to feelings of loss and resignation. Unemployment, social and economic uncertainty, and the devaluation of existing knowledge and competencies were among the challenges faced by those affected. Yet resignation and retreat were not the only coping strategies to which individuals turned. In many cases, former employees of GDR enterprises founded community associations and interest groups, aiming to maintain social cohesion. In the administrative district of Görlitz alone, approximately 50 of these associations currently exist. Such groups often seek to preserve sites, structures and objects connected to their places of work in the GDR, pass on specialist knowledge, and develop new forms of communal life.

The present research project concentrates on community-building organizations in the Oberlausitz and Vogtland regions. It investigates how former employees of socialist production plants responded to the termination of their work-based community structures, and also examines new structures of belonging that were established after 1989. The project focuses heavily on the Oberlausitz, a region constructed after 1989 as a Sorgenregion (‘region of concern’), and which continues to be discussed in these terms. Prioritizing an actor-centered perspective, biographical interviews will be conducted in the area with members of community associations. Researchers will also conduct participant observation.

The project rests on the fundamental premise that the industrial and cultural heritage of the GDR is comprised of three interconnected spheres: material, immaterial, and social heritage. The term ‘social heritage’ describes the strategies and practices of actors, who recontextualise (im)material heritage and lend it new meaning. In view of this, the organizations and interest groups under examination are viewed as instances of the traditionalization and musealization of life prior to 1989. As such, within the context of research on post-socialist transformation processes, the project places actors and their actions front and center, taking institutional change as the framework within which this occurs.

The research project is part of the interdisciplinary project cluster „Multiple Transformationen. Gesellschaftliche Erfahrung und kultureller Wandel in Ostdeutschland und Ostmitteleuropa vor und nach 1989“ [“Multiple Transformations: Societal Experiences and Cultural Change in East Germany and Eastern Middle Europe Pre- and Post-1989“]. The cluster is comprised of the ISGV, the Sorbischen Institut [Sorbian Institute], the Hannah-Arendt-Institut für Totalitarismusforschung an der TU Dresden [Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism, TU Dresden], and the Leibniz-Institut für Geschichte und Kultur des östlichen Europa [Leibniz Institute for the History and Culture of Eastern Europe]. Drawing on diverse research methodologies and sources, the cluster aims to generate innovative perspectives on theories of transformation and foster an interdisciplinary approach to transformation processes among the participating institutes. Four workshops will be organized on specific sub-projects. In 2022, the results of the research will be presented at the international conference “Cultures of Long-Term Transformation”.

Wappen des Freistaates Sachsen

Diese Maßnahme wird mitfinanziert durch Steuermittel auf der Grundlage des vom Sächsischen Landtag beschlossenen Haushaltes.