Nostalgic Feelings of East Germans in Post-Socialist East Germany

Are there any differences between the genders, and how are these expressed in post-socialist literature?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2016

13 Pages


“People in eastern Germany seemed to evaluate the socialist gender regime of the past as almost entirely positive.” (Thelen 2006: 2)

1 Introduction

The phenomenon of nostalgia (in all its patterns) is not limited or confined to the former socialist world (Tordova 2010: 2). But it is especially crucial for these countries which can be labeled as a former post-communist/socialist country in observing complexity and multi- rootedness of the phenomenon of nostalgia like in East Germany. The dimensions and the functions of nostalgia itself are variable in the specific contexts of history-making and its dealings with time in order with future politics (Boyer 2006). It has for instance different function if we compare the role of it even in different post-socialist countries like East-Germany and Mongolia. But not just the functions, also the dimensions can differ from context to context. I would like to distinguish between several categories like the differences of nostalgia in gender, race and class perceptions (Salheiser 2012). Although, the equality of genders and gendered work was proposed in socialist countries, the concept intersectionality builds a useful analytic frame within the discussions of nostalgia - even in the context of socialist settings1. Because of the historical marginalization and boundaries in granting typical2 female work (Schüle 2001; Liebeskind 2004), the segregation of foreign contract workers as well as the social inequalities between elites and workers (even if the income gap is not that serious comparable to neo-liberal societies, but the political influence and privileges were crucial) makes the concept of intersectionality even more meaningful (Salheiser 2012: 125f.; see for the aspect of gender: Thelen 2006; Bonfiglioli 2011: 115f.).

In the context of post-socialist settings I would like to focus on one of these three analytic units - the aspect of gender and the perception of nostalgia (as a tool to handling the present in focusing in the future by referring to an (imagined) past). Gender is a crucial category for the understanding and explaining post socialist changes (Gal & Kligman 2000; Neller 2006: 44, 156; Thelen 2006: 2). I would like to illustrate within the context of socialist Germany how gender differences arise, how the differences in the perception of the past are and how the functions of nostalgia differ for women and men in the setting of East Germany as a post- socialist country.

In the following chapters I will introduce basic conceptual frameworks of nostalgia as a human method to handling time. After conceptualizing the nostalgia framework I will discuss labor and living conditions of female before and after the fall of the iron curtain and I will to explain why there could be a gender gap in nostalgic feelings and what functions these expression of nostalgic behavior could have on men and female. A conclusion will sum up the main points of the discussion.

2 Nostalgia, Gender and Gender-Differences in “Post-Socialism”

Etymologically spoken, Nostalgia is a psychic condition of home sickness. The term3 has its roots in the 18th century and its meaning was expanded to also express the “desire to return to a lost place of time” (Tordova 2010: 2). In the recent past, the term has been theorized as an inherent conservatism and distance from real history. “It has been linked to memory, history, affect; it has been attached to political allegiances and models of consumerism; it has been variously approached as ‘a form of psychological whiplash, a cultural style, the abdication of memory, an aesthetic treatment, an ornament, a technique, a part of the narrative of history, or a part of the narrative of critical theory” (ibid). Nostalgia is also no longer treated as the programmatic equivalent of bad memory, rather as a narrative that serves to comment on how memory works. It can be understood as trans-ideological and something what is everywhere, but as “a cultural practice and not as a given content…In positing ‘once was’ in relation to a ‘now’, it creates a frame for meaning, a means of dramatizing aspects of an increasingly fluid and unnamed social life.” (Stewart 1988: 227, quoted in Berdahl 2010: 186) And “its forms, meanings, and effects shift with the context - it depends on where the speaker stands in the landscape of the present” (Stewart 1988: 227, quoted in Tordova 2010: 2). In the case of post- Communist nostalgia Steward sums up several frameworks and conceptual ideas and underlines that these form of nostalgia can be subsumed as false consciousness in connection with the history of communism, Nazism and fascism. In this context the research on Eastern Europe can be defined as Vergangenheitsbewältigung - “the reassessment - - coming to terms with the past, coping, dealing with it […] redress, retribution” (ibid 3f.). On the other hand, Pine asserts that people use nostalgic talks and thinking to criticize the present by comparing it with the romanticized past (2002: 111). She underlines the fact that social memory is a selective and contextual process and when people broach the issue of the good socialist past, they do not deny corruption, shortages etc., they choose to recall the personal positive aspects like the economic security, full employment, the educational system etc. (ibid). To sum this partup: nostalgia is about certain elements of disappointment, social exhaustion, economic re-categorization, generational fatigue and an activist critique of the present using the past as a mirror (Tordova 2010: 7) or rather a “sociotemporal yearning for a different stage or quality of life” (Boyer 2010: 18). It is an ascriptive term which is more used by journalists. It will be avoid as a self- description and in the end - one of the subjects of nostalgia define it as nostalgia, even if they produce its artifacts and are the identified agents of it (Tordova 2010: 7). Boyer points out that the cultural displacement in the aftermath of the fall of the iron curtain is not just an individual but rather a regional phenomenon for Eastern Europeans (2010: 17). Within the process of European integration or Europeanization of the former socialist countries it is also about the serious, physical and inescapable confrontation with the Europe’s others - the so called actors of capitalism. On a micro scale it means the individuals are confronted with market-based ideologies and neo-liberal state-structures. Especially to these two processes the former state ideology resisted these paradigms of socialism on a macro scale for decades. For the case of Germany the integration and incorporation is not restricted on an institutional scale rather a whole society became part of the dominant society of the FRG (Trommsdorf 1999: 171). The German Integration had for the people of the former GDR just one opportunity to manage the new “chaotic mode of domination” (Nazpary 2001, quoted in Boyer 2010: 17); a structural integration on several spheres in the system (like the sphere of labor- and employment relationships).

3 Nostalgia Differences in East Germany

The new economic frontiers shall be discussed briefly in this chapter. Explaining how the changes in labor relations and understanding of economy and economic relations affected the nostalgia perception between the genders, it is necessary to point out some important aspect of labor relations in the former GDR.

First is it necessary to underline that gender differences in income are derived from specific characteristics of the work and the occupations themselves. In the German Case it means that the system was not achievement-orientated but it is rather influenced by the cultural degradation of female work (Liebeskind 2004: 631). Activities that are closely linked to the household count traditionally to the female field of responsibilities (ibid. 633). Adding a traditional connotation of labor which underlies specific role models and a historical feminizing of certain fields of labor it leads further to a systematically societal marginalization of female labor. This can be seen as well in the 20th century when office labor became a female domain. Other occupations, like economic close industrial occupations were also less valued within GDR’s framework (ibid. 633). Although there were little gender based differences in income compared to West Germany, but, work in the GDR was more gender segregated than in the FRG (ibid. 634). The gender differences continued especially in the first half of the 1990s as there was an unequal excess to the new structured labor market. As women were forced to take more breaks due to the process of market de-structuring and as the shrinking economic branches4 shrank more women than men became unemployed in the new federal states (ibid.; Neller 2006: 33: 216). The gendered working relation is one of the most significant differences between the FRG and the imagined equality of relation between working men and women5 in the former GDR (Salheiser 2012: 125). This image influenced the public image of the working women6 (even if it did not influenced the image of specific gender-related labors, or a feminizing of the political culture) (Schüle 2001). But the possibilities to work for single mothers were highly important to avoid social exclusion (ibid. 200f.). Schüle underlines that the working conditions in the GDR changed the female thinking more than the male about (ibid. 13). In her ethnographic work about female textile workers in Leipzig she argues that women with these kinds of gender specific jobs were less self-determined. Furthermore, these jobs had no legitimatized function within the economic- and social policies of the GDR. Although it was propagated that the female work in the factories would emancipate women, it was just an ideological legitimation for the specific demand of female work force within the textile production. This was possible through overcoming the doubled exploitation, which based on gender and class affiliation, of the women. But, the textile branch (e.g. ethnographic example of the VEB Leipzig) had a bad reputation especially through sexual implications (ibid. 141).


1 For instance: Annegret Schüle illustrates at the example of a textile factory in Leipzig - Die Spinne - how patriarchic and gender-specific salaries and work relation have been in the GDR (2001: 349).

2 In the context of the GDR it is not called as a typical female work character, but Labor-sociologist compared the gender-labor-relations of both Germanys with the result, that there are gaps in typical employment relations, salaries as well as values of work (Liebeskind 2004: 633).

3 A semantic, historical and more explicit epistemic descriptions of the term are discussed among others in Boyer 2006; Boyer 2010: 18f.; Berdahl 1999; 2010.

4 Liebekind especially named the textile industrial work, agrarian - and household economy as typical female branches in the GDR (ibid.).

5 In West Germany, especially young mothers with children under the age of three did not work. The average percentage of working women were around 50 to 60%. During the 1990s the overall sex segregation in the labor market increased as well as changes in the sex composition within the professions. According to this process the labor force participation declined from almost 90% to 72% (Thelen 2006: 5; similar data: Fischer 2010).

6 Salheiser named this aspect of the accomplishments of the GDR regime as a trademark of the GDR labor system (ibid.).

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Nostalgic Feelings of East Germans in Post-Socialist East Germany
Are there any differences between the genders, and how are these expressed in post-socialist literature?
University of Vienna  (Kultur und Sozialanthropologie)
Whither Post-Socialism - Any News from the Former Socialist World?
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Nostalgie bzw. Ostalgie ist ein Phänomen was sich im Besonderen in ehemaligen Sozialistischen Staaten zu einem Bewältigungsmechanismus der Gegenwart herausentwickelt hat. Zahlreiche soziologische, anthropologische Studien haben die Wirksamkeit von Produkten und Erinnerungsorten untersucht sind aber nur selten auf Aspekte wie Gender, Race, oder Class eingegangen. Das Paper beschäftigt sich mit den Wahrnehmungsdifferenzen zwischen den Geschlechtern im post-sozialistischen Ost-Deutschlands. Dabei wird auf u.a. auf relevante Literatur, als auch auf Fallbeispiele eingegangen.
Nostalgie, DDR, Gender, Post-Sozialismus, Arbeit
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Andreas Schulz (Author), 2016, Nostalgic Feelings of East Germans in Post-Socialist East Germany, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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