Geoff Eley, Jan Palmowski, eds. Citizenship and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Germany. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2008. ix + 308 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8047-5204-6; $27.95 (paper), ISBN 978-0-8047-5205-3.
Reviewed by David Imhoof (Susquehanna University)
Published on H-German (March, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
The Citizenship Turn?
Can a multivalent concept of citizenship illuminate the darkest corners of modern German historiography, explain the lived experience of historical change, and demonstrate the various ways in which Germans sought agency in the public sphere? This collection of fourteen essays, based on a 2004 conference in Oxford, promises a great deal. In their introduction, editors Geoff Eley and Jan Palmowski maintain that citizenship, when defined broadly, can serve as an effective analytical tool, a lens through which to view historical change in modern Germany, power relations, interactions between groups, identity formation, and Germans' relations with their state. This collection provides a valuable introduction to the study of citizenship and will serve as a touchstone for subsequent work.
Picking up where scholars like Andreas Fahrmeir, Dieter Gosewinkel, Kathleen Canning, and Eli Nathans have started, these essays convincingly demonstrate that citizenship can offer new insights into German history. This book achieves this fairly lofty goal for three main reasons. First, the authors discuss and test models of citizenship from social science, using concrete empirical analysis based on a variety of archival and published sources to determine the value of various concepts of citizenship. Second, the collection amounts to a sustained analysis of both "thin" and "thick" notions of citizenship--that is, traditional legal concepts and more discursive ways that people interact with states, each other, and ideas of national identity. Finally, the book's organization mirrors those larger issues it addresses. And the degree to which individual essays engage with each other reinforces connections between the topics discussed. Indeed, the interaction throughout the collection gives a sense of the intellectual energy that must have infused the original conference.
Citizenship and national identity are both slippery terms. Authors call the notion of citizenship at various points "contentiouns," "complex," "ambivalent," "indeterminate," "contradictory," "contingent," "precarious," "risky," and "under construction." Such qualifications do not strip away the value of citizenship as an analytical instrument, however. Rather, the authors use the space within the notion of citizenship to draw important conclusions about modern German history. "Citizenship," Eley and Palmowski maintain, "provides a concreteness to the fields of interaction among individuals, their public relationships, and their communities, which notably eludes notions like identity or even national identity" (p. 23). In fact, "citizenship" is the real star here with "national identity" playing, at best, a supporting role in virtually all the essays. Peter Caldwell offers a set of four meanings that seem to inform most contributions: citizenship mean a subject's belonging to a state, a citizen's object set of rights within a state, the citizen's subjective sense of entitlement to rights within the state, or a subjective feeling of identification with a state or community (p. 41). More simply, the contributions explore the difference between Staatsanhörigkeit and Staatsbürgerschaft, and their interplay.
The book is organized well to explore these different categories. After an introduction, four essays look at the political-legal concept of citizenship. Dieter Gosewinkel contrasts visions of citizenship in France and Germany at the turn of the twentieth century, explaining the impact both of older notions of citizenship and the immediate needs of these two states. Peter Caldwell, next, looks at two important moments of changing ideas about citizenship--the 1918/19 revolutionary period and the 1935 Nuremberg Laws--to show the shift from active to passive citizenship in the interwar period. Annemarie Sammartino goes on to study responses to naturalization in different Länder as a part of Weimar's "symbolic politics" (p. 71). Jan Palmowski then explains the unique vision of citizenship in the GDR that expected daily practice but avoided "the vexed question of nationality" (p. 75).
Part 2 turns to "thick" definitions of citizenship. Jennifer Jenkins's essay on Wohnkultur before World War I first demonstrates how consumption and interior decoration revealed visions of national identity formation. Thomas Lindenberger draws upon two examples of police violence from 1906 and 1994 to reveal codes of citizenship and how they changed over the twentieth century. Cornelie Usborne then argues that abortion debates in the 1920s gave women new opportunities to participate in discussions about citizenship by effacing borders between public and private life. Jonathan Wiesen analyzes "consumption citizenship" in the Third Reich, revealing the tensions between Nazi propaganda and corporate public relations. oby Thacker, finally, studies the ways in which GDR officials came to terms with established ideas about the superiority of German music and the need for an active, socialist music citizenry.
The book's final section enlists four scholars to draw larger conclusions about the preceding essays and citizenship generally. Pascal Grosse offers arguably the most unique--but also the most speculative--analysis in the book by centering on "cerebral citizenship." He argues that situating citizenship in the brain, as scientists began to do from the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries, rooted citizenship in assumptions about gender, race, class, and sexuality norms. Adelheid von Saldern draws out the meaning of citizenship at the local and regional level. She also highlights the dual analytical appeal of the concept of citizenship: it can articulate normative positive values and help investigate the experiences of "Others." Kathleen Canning's analysis in particular weaves together her own extensive work on citizenship with the essays in this collection. She concludes that citizenship is a "relational category," involving both passive status and active engagement (pp. 231-232).
Finally, Eley wraps up the book with a discussion of the historigraphical and contemporary implications of this study of citizenship. Like most of the contributors, Eley challenges the conclusions of Rogers Brubaker's Citizenship and Nationhood in France and Germany (1992). The essays here, along with other recent work, belie Brubaker's "overabstracted and overgeneralized" ethnocultural explanation of differences between French and German notions of citizenship (p. 235). Much as a cascade of detailed histories dismantled the overarching Sonderweg thesis beginning in the 1980s, the essays in this collection represent a growing body of research in the last decade that problematizes simplistic and normative assumptions about citizenship. (In fact, Eley lists the Sonderweg thesis as another string in Brubaker's bow.) The works here make clear that normative, passive concepts of citizenship cannot reveal the rich ways in which Germans interacted with their states, much less other groups or ideas. Still, while J. H. Hexter might have once called this collection a group of "splitters" challenging the "lumpers" of citizenship theory, one of this book's most commendable features is the consistent attempt by most contributors to find common ground, to "lump" ideas together. At the same time, the "radical indeterminacy" of the German state from the mid nineteenth century to the 1990s meant that citizenship--by any definition--was not fixed (p. 238). So the book's aim to study citizenship as "the central medium through which the collective experience of the nation is formed and sustained at the everyday level" (p. 239) may be the closest we can get to an honest and concrete theory of citizenship for Germany. Effective and adaptable definitions, moreover, can help illuminate the complex functions of citizenship in today's increasingly globalized world.
The volume also raises important questions. How, for instance, does a broader vision of citizenship shed light on the attention historians have been paying to transnationalism? And how do we ensure that this concept does not become as vague as "identity"? In answer to the latter, many of the contributions here grapple explicitly with the legacies of social history, above all with the manifold questions that gender and feminist studies have raised in German history, as a way to keep citizenship studies concrete. This collection demonstrates that the study of citizenship can focus and enrich analyses of gender, class, race, and culture in modern Germany. Attention to, rather than an abrupt theoretical turn toward, citizenship seems to be the main call of this important collection.
. Andreas Fahrmeir, Citizens and Aliens: Foreigners and the Law in Britain and the German States 1789-1870 (New York: Berghahn, 2000); Dieter Gosewinkel, Einbürgen und Ausschließen: Die Nationalisierung der Staatsanhörigkeit vom Deutschen Bund bis zur Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001); Kathleen Canning, "Class vs. Citizenship: Keywords in German Gender History," Central European History 37 (June 2004): 224-244; and Eli Nathans, The Politics of Citizenship in Germany: Ethnicity, Utility and Nationalism (Oxford: Berg, 2004).
. J. H. Hexter famously divided historians into "lumpers" and "splitters" in "The Burden of Proof," Times Literary Supplement, October 24, 1975.
. A 2006 H-German forum in fact posited that transnationalism may have replaced "identity" as a key scholarly concept in the social sciences and humanities. See the contributors and relevant material at http://www.h-net.org/~german/discuss/Trans/forum_trans_index.htm, as well as a conference report on "National Scholarship and Transnational Experience: Politics, Identity, and Objectivity in the Humanities and Social Sciences" at http://h-net.msu.edu/cgi-bin/logbrowse.pl?trx=vx&list=H-German&month=0606&week=a&msg=GmQ7D59bXjeVciYy8uirTA&user=&pw= that argues something similar.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-german.
David Imhoof. Review of Eley, Geoff; Palmowski, Jan, eds., Citizenship and National Identity in Twentieth-Century Germany.
H-German, H-Net Reviews.
|This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.|