The Heckler and Koch G36 Assault Rifle illegally exported to Mexico. A Cultural Biography

Term Paper, 2021

10 Pages, Grade: 7



Section 1: Introduction

Section 2: Theoretical Approach

Section 3: Analysis

Section 4: Conclusion

Reference List 7

Section 1: Introduction

On March 30, 2021, several German media report on a ruling by the Federal Court of Justice on illegal arms exports by the German arms manufacturer Heckler & Koch (H&K): Between 2006 and 2009, H&K sold more than 4,200 G36 assault rifles worth around 3.7 million Euros to Mexico. The German export authorities approved this, to the exclusion of four regions of unrest - Jalisco, Chiapas, Chihuahua and Guerrero. In 2010, Jürgen Grässlin filed a complaint against H&K, claiming that the very same rifle had turned up in the prohibited zones. In 2021 in the second instance, the verdict confirmed what Stuttgart Regional Court had already decided in 2019. A sales manager and a clerk were convicted of violations of the Foreign Trade and Payments Act. What the prosecution thus did not achieve was to convict the two also under the War Weapons Control Act. The bottom line, however, is that the court agrees with the assessment that the two H&K employees induced the German government to approve the arms exports by knowingly providing false information in the end-use declaration. (Deters et al., 2021; Kornmeier, C.; Preker, 2021; SWR Doku 2020)1

This paper follows the illegally exported G36 assault rifle from H&K to Mexico. Although the life-cycle of the rifle with its individual parts does not begin in Oberndorf/ Germany, but the raw materials and processing originate much earlier and elsewhere, the analysis of the commodity shall begin at the main headquarters of H&K AG. From here, decisions were made, and strings were pulled, which led to the export of weapons to Mexico. When tracing the object, it becomes clear that several interconnected actors are involved, different values and meanings are ascribed to the G36, various people benefit from its circulation, and, in addition to the economic level, the political and cultural levels also have an influence on the significance of the commodity.

To follow and analyze these significances, the cultural-biographical framework of Igor Kopytoff will shed light on the G36 as a commodity that has different meanings for different actors in different contexts and stages of its life. With this approach we can - in Kopytoff's own words - "make salient what might otherwise remain obscure" (Kopytoff, 2003, p. 67).

In the following (Section 2), Kopytoff's theoretical approach will be described and show how it can help analyze and unravel the trajectory of the G36. Following this, the results of the case study will be presented and the G36 will be examined as a commodity (Section 3). Finally, the conclusion (Section 4) summarizes the main findings and links them to the theoretical approach.

Section 2: Theoretical Approach

To trace the G36, Kopytoff's cultural-biographical framework is chosen. The approach emphasizes that the biography of a thing can and should be viewed from as many perspectives as a biography of a person. Depending on the perspective - technical, social, economic - other characteristics become visible. What they have in common is that they are all culturally shaped and therefore can only fully explain the process of commoditization in context and in their interaction. Kopytoff examines why a thing is considered a commodity and how this attribution changes over the course of a thing's lifetime. He emphasizes the processual character of this attribution and how dynamic and interrelated it is. (Kopytoff, 2003, p. 68)

Kopytoff's theory ranges between two ideal extremes: One is the totally homogeneous world in which everything is available for exchange - Kopytoff (2003) calls it "an utterly commoditized capitalism" (p. 70). The other extreme is a totally heterogeneous world in which "everything [is] so singular as to preclude even the hint of exchange" (Kopytoff, 2003, p. 70). In real life we live between these two extremes. To order the heterogeneity or singularity of things, culture is the means that forms categories within it so that commercialization is possible. In this regard, Kopytoff (2003) defines culture as follows:

Culture serves the mind by imposing a collectively shared cognitive order upon the world which, objectively, is totally heterogeneous and presents an endless array of singular things. Culture achieves order by carving out, through discrimination and classification, distinct areas of homogeneity within the overall heterogeneity. (p. 70)

Culture thus shapes the circumstances in which an object operates and contributes significantly to its classification.

In the case of the G36, several people are involved in its trajectory from Germany to Mexico. Depending on the perspective, economic, technical, political and social aspects of the G36 play a role. These individual aspects will be described below and examined in their interplay to make clear the multifaceted process that the G36 undergoes in its relationship with people from different spheres and that shapes and defines it.


1 The research on the G36 refers almost exclusively to reports from the media. Although care was taken when selecting the media to use firmly established and renowned media, these sources are not scientific articles that have undergone peer review and meet corresponding scientific standards.

Excerpt out of 10 pages


The Heckler and Koch G36 Assault Rifle illegally exported to Mexico. A Cultural Biography
Maastricht University  (Faculty of Social Science)
Globalisation and Poverty: A Connected World
Catalog Number
Mexico, Cultural Biography, Heckler&Koch, Assault Rifle, illegal export
Quote paper
Isabel Thoma (Author), 2021, The Heckler and Koch G36 Assault Rifle illegally exported to Mexico. A Cultural Biography, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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