The Arts of Democratization: Styling Political Sensibilities in Postwar West Germany

Jennifer Kapczynski's picture
April 5, 2018 to April 7, 2018
Missouri, United States
Subject Fields: 
Cultural History / Studies, Film and Film History, German History / Studies, Political History / Studies, Social History / Studies

The Department of Germanic Languages at Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis is pleased to announce the 24th Biennial St. Louis Symposium on German Literature and Culture, “The Arts of Democratization: Styling Political Sensibilities in Postwar West Germany,” to take place April 5-7, 2018. The event is co-organized by Jennifer M. Kapczynski and Caroline A. Kita and generously funded by the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures, the Thyssen Foundation, and the Washington University Center for the Humanities.

Scholars of democracy have long looked to the Federal Republic of Germany as a model for how to transition from a violent, authoritarian regime to a peaceable nation of rights. Although this account has been contested since its inception, the transformations spurred by unification and its aftermath have posed a particular challenge to the narrative of West Germany’s “happy ending.” The rise of right-wing movements across Europe, the specter of Brexit, and ever deepening fissures in the U.S. political system have produced a climate in which the future of Western democracy appears critically at risk. This sense of emergency is amplified by contemporary political theorists, who term our own era “post-democratic. ” At the heart of this contemporary debate is the question of dissent. Are there limits to the plurality of opinion that a democracy can or should permit? How do we address the emergence of political movements and protest cultures that seem to threaten the foundational principles of modern democracy? And what role can artists and intellectuals play in thinking beyond our current political and cultural impasses?

Any speculation about the coming end of democracy demands that we examine its potential beginnings as well as its possible futures. This international, interdisciplinary symposium, hosted by the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at Washington University in St. Louis, takes up the case of West Germany in order to explore what insights it can offer for salvaging and sustaining democracy in its contemporary forms. Bringing together scholars from the fields of German Studies, History, Film Studies, and Political Science, the conference asks how the arts, media, and public discourse cultivated and contested the processes of democratization in the postwar Federal Republic. Specifically, participants will explore how postwar thinkers and artists sought to conceptualize and render legible West German political transformation. How, in the wake of fascism and occupation, did postwar intellectuals imagine democracy? How did they picture democracy as both a political and cultural system? What forms did they envision democratic subjectivity taking, and how did they believe that democratic feeling might be nurtured and protected?




Opening Reception


9-9:15 Opening Remarks

Jean Allman, Director, Washington University Center for the Humanities

Matt Erlin, Professor and Chair, Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures

9:15-10:45  Session 1: Conceiving Democracy

Moderator: Erin McGlothlin (Washington University in St. Louis)

Kathleen Canning (Rice University), “States of Exception and Sudden Democracies in Germany, 1918-19 and 1945-48”

Sean Forner (Michigan State University), “People, Masses, Machines: Intellectuals Imagine the Demos in 1950s West Germany”

11:15-12:45 Session 2: Lessons in Democracy

Moderator: Kurt Beals (Washington University in St. Louis)

Tobias Boes (Notre Dame University), “‘Lt. General Mann’: Thomas Mann, the U.S. Army’s POW Reeducation Efforts, and the Role of Literature in a Democratic Germany”

P.M. Lützeler (Washington University in St. Louis), “Democratic Reeducation: Hermann Broch’s Reflections on Postwar Germany”

2-3:30 Session 3: Nurturing Democracy

Moderator: Corinna Treitel (Washington University in St. Louis)

Alice Weinreb (Loyola University Chicago), “‘First Comes the Feeding, Then Comes the Democratization’: Food, Hunger, and Democracy in the early FRG”

Darcy Buerkle (Smith College), “Gender and the Promises of Internationalism”

4-5:30 Session 4: Populism and Democracy

Moderator: Anika Walke (Washington University in St. Louis)

Larson Powell (University of Missouri Kansas City), “Does Modernism Have a Normative Content?”

Paula Diehl (Universität Bielefeld), “Antidemocratic Ideologies in the Democratic Public Sphere: The Problem of Right Wing Populism in Germany”


9:15-10 Session 5: Democratic Actors

Moderator: Paige McGinley (Washington University in St. Louis)

Jennifer Kapczynski (Washington University in St. Louis), “Amateur Democrats”

10:30-12 Session 6: Making Democratic Bodies & Minds

Moderator: Johanna Schuster-Craig (Michigan State University)

Maja Figge (Künstuniversität Linz), “Redemptive Whiteness: Refigurations of Germanness in 1950s West German Cinema”

Anthony Kauders (Keele University), “No Country for Old Minds: Psychology and West Germany's Democratization”

2-3:30 Session 7: Projecting Democracy

Moderator: Lori Watt (Washington University in St. Louis)

Jan Uelzmann (Georgia Tech), “Foundational Narratives: West German Nation-Building Through State Sponsored PR Films, 1951-63”

Till van Rahden (University of Montreal), “‘I Know You Are Here. I Feel It.’ On Democratic Forms as Elusive Objects”

4-5:30 Session 8: Democratic Futures 

Moderator: Joy Calico (Vanderbilt University)

Frank Mehring (Radboud University), “Marshall Plan Photo Grammar: The Visual Promise of a New Democratic Germany 1948/2018”

Caroline Kita (Washington University in St. Louis), “Imagining Germany’s Democratic Future as Present in the Radio Play”

Contact Info: 

Jennifer Kapczynski, Associate Professor of German
Washington University in St. Louis
Campus Box 1104
One Brookings Drive 
Saint Louis, MO 63130


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