State, Territory, and Identity Formation in the Postwar Berlins, 1945–1989

Essay Excerpt

This research is based on 34 months of fieldwork in East and West Berlin between the fall of 1986 and 1989, in other words, in the context of the waning years of the Cold War.2 And as already mentioned, I am limiting my analysis to the generation born between approximately 1915 and 1935. Hence, I am not accounting for the border changes and population movements of 1989 that brought about the final collapse of the Cold War and the political unification of Germany. These events were instigated by the youngest children and grandchildren in East Germany of the generation examined in this article.

Yet, this analysis does point to an explanation of this flight (by approximately 300,000 young Germans) in the fall of 1989, for the participants understood their displacement, I would argue, in terms of the previous flights of parents and grandparents around the end of World War II. The disposition to flightis a practice growing out of culturally specific German experiences in this century, but, moreover, it is acquired and embodied differently (and transformed in the very process of being made one's own) by each generation, living as it does in a particular historical time and space. Furthermore, this disposition has a generative capacity to transform dissimilar problems into structurally similar responses, thus linking Germans of different generations together. Let me begin with a brief theoretical excursion into the logic of the state's relation to national identity. (Borneman, 47)

About the Author

John Borneman is currently a Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University. He has conducted fieldwork in Germany and Central Europe, and is currently engaged in research in Lebanon and Syria. He has completed projects on the symbolic forms of political identification, the relation of the state to everyday life, forms of justice and accountability, and on regime change. Currently he is working on an anthropology of secularism. From 1991 to 2001 he taught at Cornell University, and has been guest professor at the University of California, Berkeley; Stockholm University (Sweden); Bergen University (Norway); guest professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales, Paris (France); Fulbright Professor at Humboldt Universitaet zu Berlin (Germany) and the University of Aleppo (Syria). He has written widely on kinship, sexuality, nationality, and political form, with an ethnographic focus on Germany--and currently Lebanon.

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