Ethics of Essence

On the Emotional Production of "Aryan" Subjectivity in Völkisch Settlements, 1890-1925

Anna Danilina (completed PhD Project, 2020)

My dissertation focuses on völkisch settlements and "race-appropriate" practices (Schnurbein 1999) that aimed to renew the "Aryan race" in late nineteenth and early twentieth-century Germany.
To confront urbanization and modernization which "threatened" the "Aryan race" with loss in a global contest for survival, the Völkisch initiated enclosed rural settlements. From 1893 onwards, plans for many settlements were drafted and realized. After 1924 their concept flourished and was expanded under National Socialism.
A number of recent studies have addressed the continuity between the ideology of völkisch settlements and the cult of blood and soil in National Socialism. Much less attention has been paid to how a global and colonial context fed into the early racial settlements in Germany and the way in which "race" was established not only as an ideological concept, but as an emotional common sense and attributed and inscribed in the bodies of self, collective and the other.
Focusing on the early phase of the settlement movement, my project aims to realise three interconnected goals: first, it takes the perspective of the history of emotions, practices, and the body to analyse the construction of race. Starting with Critical Race and Critical Whiteness Studies, I historically investigate how the "Aryan" was constituted not only in ideology and discourse, but in the education of emotions and the body.
Through a holistic concept of "race-appropriate ethics", the völkisch settlement was tasked with culturally producing racial nature—a practical life-ethics was to constitute the essence which was its cause. Race was not only a matter of genetics but also of the necessary education of the body, emotions, and mores. I'm analysing how specific "emotional practices" (Scheer 2011) and "affective economies" (Ahmed 2004) function to frame, mediate, and educate the self, community, and its other. My sources discuss diverse practices which are understood as producing the racial body.
Secondly, I read practices such as vegetarian dieting, meditation, nudism, sportive activities or ecstatic dance for their transnational genealogy and colonial archive. Thus, my project rereads the völkisch movement beyond the "Sonderweg" narrative leading towards National Socialism. Rather, the völkisch practices of racialization connect German antisemitism, National Socialism, and the Shoah to the violence and segregation of the colonial world.
Thirdly, "race-appropriate" practices also connect the völkisch movement to different religious and political spectrums within Germany. Especially the life-reform and German youth movement, but also Buddhist, Hindu and Zionist associations need to be seen in their interconnection with the völkisch reformers' aims.


  • Ahmed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion  (New York: Routledge, 2004).
  • Scheer, Monique. "Are Emotions a Kind of Practice (And is That What Makes Them Have a History)?" History and Theory 51.2 (2011): 193–220.
  • Schnurbein, Stefanie von. "Die Suche nach einer 'artgerechten' Religion in 'germanisch' und 'deutschgläubigen' Gruppen," in Uwe Puschner et al. (eds),  Handbuch zur "Völkischen Bewegung" 1871 - 1918 (München: Saur, 1999), 172-185.

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