11 May 2023, 12 pm (PDT)
Stanford University, US
Tatjana Thelen: Parcels to the East: Politically Important, Theoretically Overseen.
Why have the politically, economically, and emotionally significant parcels sent from West Germany to the Socialist East been neglected by social theory? In my talk, I will argue that ideas of modernity on both sides of the Iron Curtain produced a blind spot that is worth reconsidering.
During the time that two German states existed, parcels sent to the Socialist East were politically, economically, and emotionally important. Successive West German government campaigns supported them as symbols of unity through tax releases, school and poster campaigns. Millions of parcels were sent each year and the socialist governments reluctantly learned to rely on their economic value. Increasingly, the exchange included large kinship networks beyond individual relations. After unification, these networks quickly dissolved and the parcels became symbols of difference between relatives, as well as between East and West Germany more broadly. Despite their material and immaterial significance, these kinship practices represent an epistemic void. They play no role in the analyses of family sociologists and students of political transformation. In my talk, I ask why social scientists have not paid attention to these practices and argue that ideas of modernity on both sides of the Iron Curtain produced this blind spot. Taking these exchanges seriously could still eventually lead to new insights into the co-production of state and kinship.
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