Towards a Historical Materialist Approach to Racism in Post-'Unification' Germany


  • Juliane Edler York University



This paper problematizes the subtext of ‘race’, which underpinned the contradictory process of German ‘unification’. The following question guides my inquiry: how and why have ‘white’ East German workers in post-‘unification’ Germany come to think of their ‘Germanness’/’whiteness’ as meaningful? Clearly drawing from the work of David R. Roediger, I argue that ‘white’ East German workers were paid the ‘wages of Germanness’. The concept is fleshed out as I interrogate three interrelated dimensions of changes pertaining to the lived experiences of (‘white’) East German workers: (1) German citizenship regulations with its lines of inclusion and exclusion; (2) the qualifier East denoting the existence of various degrees of Germanness; (3) individualized market dependence giving rise to conflicted emotions. Setting in motion a process of extensive and complex change, ‘unification’ had an impact on social relations of power, lived experiences and cultural means. The concept ‘wages of Germanness’ expresses the connections between political, ideological and economic aspects of ‘unification’, and further brings into focus the historical legacy of racialized notions of Germanness. Using the framework of historical materialism, this paper articulates a critique of hegemonic ideology, which suggests that racism in post-‘unification’ Germany was, by and large, spatially confined to East Germany.

Author Biography

Juliane Edler, York University

Juliane Edler is a doctoral student of Political Science at York University, Toronto. Her research interest is in critical race theory, Marxism and social history. in her dissertation,  she focuses on racism in post-'unification' Germany with particular emphasis on the way in which ‘white' East German workers have come to identify as German/'white' after 1989. Juliane can be reached at: