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Accepted Paper:

Learning (how) to trust your gut: Stasi, suspicion, and socialisation in the former East Germany  
Grit Wesser (Newcastle University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper focuses on the issue of interpersonal trust as one of political affect in Cold War East Germany. It argues that East Germans, as part of their socialisation, developed intuition about whom to trust in relation to the State Security’s (Stasi) employment of informers (IMs).

Paper long abstract:

During the protracted conflict of the Cold War, the political elites on both sides of the Iron Curtain employed extensive state security measures to protect their respective political projects from external and internal threats. After the collapse of the German Democratic Republic (GDR/East Germany), the work strategies of the Ministry of State Security (MfS/Stasi) became the focus for assessing the former regime. It was the revelation of the Stasi’s vast network of informers (IMs), who spied on colleagues, neighbours, and friends as potential ‘internal enemies’, that shocked most East Germans. Yet, at the same time, almost everyone in the former East Germany appeared to have already known during the Cold War that the Stasi employed such Spitzel (snitches) in all aspects of everyday life. This awareness renders the question of interpersonal trust also as one of political affect. How did East Germans trust one another when such trust could also pose a potential risk of harm through the state’s use of its monopoly on violence? In this paper, I take seriously my East German interlocutors’ accounts of their ‘gut feeling’, that is, the sensory and intuitional nature of their knowledge attainment on whom to trust or not in relation to the state. I argue that East Germans developed such intuition as part of their socialisation process in the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ that served as a protective mechanism against becoming the target of state surveillance.

Panel P115a
Trust and Violence in Times of Political Transformation I
  Session 1 Wednesday 27 July, 2022, -