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Experiences of Transformation. Social and Biographical Change after 1989 in East Germany

Research: Department of Cultural Anthropology
Duration: 2019 - 

The successful “Peaceful Revolution” thirty years ago and the subsequent unification of Germany stood for a historical caesura that continues to have an effect up to today. Next to the systemic changes in politics, economy, law, and society, to many people, the dissolution and the end of GDR signified a far-reaching biographical experience. Together with the loss of the everyday world of GDR, came the necessity to adjust to new social demands, freedoms and constraints. This situation was met in totally different ways - as an opportunity, a defeat or as a constraint. The events of 1989/90, but also the preceding and the subsequent processes, provide the frame of reference to this interdepartmental project focusing on individual and social processes, experiences and narratives. In the face of the numerous facets of the transformation process and its dynamism that continues until today, we will, in a multi-perspective approach, explore how individual persons, groups, and institutions in East Germany began the “new times”, which interpretations of the transformation were articulated and how it was evaluated retrospectively. The perspectives reach from individual experiences with the reconstruction of the work environment to the new orientation of contract workers after 1989/90, from the restructuring of museums of local history up to testimonials of the East German population that have been collected by the Saxon State Ministry of Equality and Integration since 2014. With the multi-perspective and interdisciplinary approach, the multi-faceted nature of transformation experiences can be met adequately. With their reflection, a deeper insight into social problem contexts and conflicts of today will be made possible.

The project is closely linked with current research, i.e. Remembering Work in the Collective, Social Legacies/Heritage and Energy|Transition.

In fall 2019 the edited volume „Umbrüche. Erfahrung gesellschaftlichen Wandels nach 1989“ (Upheavel/Change. Biographic Experiences of Societal Transformation after 1989) was published. In November 2019 the international and interdisciplinary conference “Ambiguities of Transformation: ‚1989‘ between Success Story and Biographical Crisis” was held in cooperation with the Hannah Arendt Institute for Research on Totalitarianism and the Centre for Integration Studies. Furthermore, a website reflecting upon the experiences during transformation in a medium-sized town is being developed, taking the Thuringian town of Jena as an example and presenting the results of a research seminar at the University of Jena (1989 revisited – urban studies in ethnography).