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In the shadow of the other: Explorations of German identity in the construction of difference

Amy Elizabeth Harper, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation is a study of encounters between Germans and immigrants to Germany. Specifically I am interested in how Germans are coming to terms with the changing cultural dynamics of group identity and how notions of “Germanness” are created, negotiated, and contested. I take as my point of departure the postcolonial observation that hegemonic representations of “others” are simultaneously projects promoting particular notions of “self.” Based on ethnographic research in Berlin, Germany between 1998 and 1999, I explore three different sites of German discursive encounters with foreign residents: (1) The neighborhoods of Berlin-Mitte and Berlin-Kreuzberg; (2) A conservative political action protesting dual citizenship; (3) The efforts of an east Berlin anti-racist initiative to promote the integration of foreign residents. Drawing on a variety of theoretical perspectives including feminist and poststructuralist theorization of identity, critical discourse analysis, urban anthropology, and race and whiteness studies, each chapter analyses a different moment in which particular notions of Germanness are constituted in opposition to representations of foreignness. By presenting a collection of moments instead of focusing attention on a single instance I convey both the fractured experience of urban ethnography while demonstrating that the discursive manifestations of German identity emerge in many different places and in many different ways. Through these examples I explore how certain discourses homogenize the German population while other discourses reveal fissures within the category of “German,” specifically between and east and west Germans. I then conclude the dissertation with the argument that each of the various discussions presented can be seen as part of a discourse in which notions of “foreigner” and “German” are racialized. With this work, I endeavor to contribute to the postcolonial call to question the asymmetrical relations of power, to disrupt assumptions of separate and bounded social and cultural entities, and to reveal the relational nature of conceptions of difference.

Subject Area

Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Harper, Amy Elizabeth, "In the shadow of the other: Explorations of German identity in the construction of difference" (2002). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3068564.