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Planned Love? Advice Communication on Marriage and Partnership in the GDR

Among the narratives circulating among the post-war East German public, one claim gained particular popularity: real love was only possible in the GDR, as only in the East could emotions be spared the exploitation prevalent in the West. Emancipated women and men could both engage in wage work, their equality was reputed to be secured by family law and supported by childcare institutions. This was not only a narrative of the ruling party, SED, but continued to provide the basis for the self-image of many East Germans after the GDR collapsed. But was there really a difference between how people felt in a socialist state and emotional capitalism? This project investigates East German discourses and practices on romantic love between 1945 and 1990. The changes in the ways love was conceived of and practiced reveal uniquely East German traits, influences from Western Europe and the US as well as similarities between all three. Investigating changes in the formation of the self, which were also brought about by being in love or by shifting conceptions of love, contribute to a more accurate description of why and how East Germans accepted or challenged state-socialist morality at certain points in history.

The dissertation project integrates practice theory into a historical study of emotional accounts. It is based on documents such as published guidebooks, advice columns in magazines and letters to the editor, which contain individual readers’ responses. The project also considers advice givers’ references to art and literature as sources for a vocabulary of the self. The research includes an analysis of alternative lifestyles, documented and put into practice by dissidents, activists in Church communities, self-help circles and civil rights groups. Writing itself can be seen as an emotional practice itself. It names, communicates, mobilizes and regulates emotions. East Germans made sense of love by formulating advice or by responding to it, integrating scientific knowledge and cultural phenomena from East and West. In doing so, they strengthened, ignored or challenged the ideology of state socialism. The project seeks to inquire into a multiplicity of connected phenomena, rather than developing an overall narrative of liberalization leading up to 1990. Examining love will offer a new perspective on the self-perceptions, morals and agency of East Germans.

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Supervisor

Prof. Ute Frevert