The Cultural Production of Heimat: Citizenship, Immigration and the Political Economy of Shared Frontiers in Europe

Andrea Zach

Advisor: Paul Smith, PhD, Cultural Studies Program

Committee Members: Peter Mandaville, Marion Deshmukh

Enterprise Hall, #318
November 06, 2017, 03:00 PM to 04:30 PM


The ‘German’ idea of heimat (home or homeland) is a highly polysemic concept which conveys an array of material and ideological nuances; these often merge the notion of belonging and identity with affective attachments to a specific place or region. This dissertation contextualizes and historicizes the concept of heimat since German reunification and the European Union’s expansion to the East; and, it tracks the idea via a critical analysis of ‘three sites’ to elucidate social relations—particularly economic relations—that pertained during and as a consequence of the neoliberal restructuring of the German welfare state. I claim that the intensified usage of the idea of heimat in various discourses in Germany today must be recognized and analyzed primarily, but not exclusively, as the outcome of neoliberal reforms. 

In the second chapter, I focus on the PEGIDA movement that emerged in 2014 and propose that the division of labor that emerged from the processes of German reunification strengthened the revival of regional identities that exist in Germany today. In chapter 3, I analyze a collection of literary texts from authors who have received various esteemed prizes. I argue the ‘dissident’ artist strategically appropriates the concept heimat as a disguised metaphor qua cultural codes to dislocate its position of power. The principle of subsidiarity, I contend in chapter 4, created a cinema of interstices— an alternative to the cinematic apparatus at work in Hollywood to distribute German films abroad and to attract Hollywood business to specific regions. Dealing with the forcible reunification of Germany, I begin and conclude that specific historical constellations and the real loss of home call into question the meaning of heimat as a place of belonging. Any nostalgic, or ostalgic, idealization of the past has little value for contemporary emancipatory thought.