Geoffrey Winthrop-Young


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Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.

Engaging the high-rise in German media culture - aspects of vertical living from 1945 to 2020 (2021)

This dissertation examines the way high-rise living was portrayed and documented in the press, in interactive gaming environments and fictional storytelling in West Germany between 1945 and 2020. I argue that the figure of the high-rise in West Germany served not only as a departure from the material destruction after WWII, but also as an ideological marker of a new start. This argument builds on existing research on architecture in a medial understanding, as storage as well as processor and transmitter of history. In the particular case of West Germany, these aspects are concerned with questions of memory and exile, but also with segregation and mobility. The chapters show how the cultural and social perception of the high-rise changed over the course of time. My second and third chapters focus on press outlets, which deployed photography as well as narrative strategies in order to highlight the idea of a fresh start after the war, marked by the new high-rise architecture. Chapter Four employs the genre of children’s literature in order to show the significance of segregation of indoor and outdoor spaces and its concluding ascriptions of function. Chapter Five examines an early interactive game console Game&Watch, and the game environments which rely heavily on the high-rise as a driver of the gameplay. I illustrate how the game environments and game setups filter the negative aspects of the new architecture and build it into the gameplay. Finally, Chapter Six concludes with a discussion of negative reporting in a current media context. I introduce the spatial idiosyncrasies of surveillance and liminality of the high-rise mass dwelling by analysing the narrative strategies employed in Karosh Taha’s novel Beschreibung einer Krabbenwanderung.In sum, these mechanisms of memory making, exile, segregation and mobility show the underlying tropes of the high-rise’s enmeshment with spatial effects and history. [An errata to this thesis/dissertation was made available on 2021-07-13.]

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Impossible subjectivities : negative agency and the biopolitical order of Nazism (2021)

“Impossible Subjectivities” describes Nazism by analyzing practical paradoxes that concern either the SS or the German Nazi concentration and death camp prisoners. Intellectually we are faced with a variety of impossibilities: Nazism’s SS judiciary, for example, investigated SS officers’ illegal killings of prisoners in the German Nazi concentration and death camps. Also Nazism’s murder was ideologically framed as “decent.” Furthermore self-identifying National Socialists who were vocally fond of unity and obedience have been corrupt and some high-ranking officers treated Jewish prisoners as if colleagues. By contrast, memories that remain from concentration and death camp prisoners suggest that the drive to survive was as much collaboration as a fight against suicide. The prisoners paradoxically report of prisoner sadists, of a general self-distancing of prisoners from the weakest in the camps, while many survivors identify with the strength of their will to survive and insist on the body’s memory as much as on hope.These socio-historical narratives represent ideational and physical complications. They imply that juridical (un)consciousness, Kant’s subject or Foucaultian discourse, is insufficient to describe the human, affected, affective and paradoxical bodies that individuals performed from within their systemic position: By focussing on situations in which people were producing a difference within the biopolitical order in which they existed, and where still nothing systemically changed, “Impossible Subjectivities” addresses the relation between biopolitics and subjectivity, between both affected but unchanged discourse as forms of “negative agency.” This project shows why rationality and social norm applications alone cannot suffice to resist biopolitical oppression. It shows how Nazism, too, idealized heroism and rationality. It shows how human bodies can even systemically-subjectively and disruptively relate to one another without that anything fundamentally changes. And it asks: Can the historical threshold of Nazism’s particular impossible subjectivities tell us anything about our contemporary modes of oppression? Methodologically, “Impossible Subjectivities” focusses on philosophies of difference – from existentialism to performativity – in order to analyze historical source material such as diary entries, memoirs, letters, recordings to drawings and sculpture. Categories such as tone, voice, feeling, affect, receptivity, weak will, drag and naked life are core conceptual parameters for the inquiry.

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Spatial configurations of the Warsaw Ghetto: selected aspects of Jewish space and Nazi policies (2018)

Conceptualizing space as both a social product and a social agent, my thesis examines the Jewish ghetto that the Nazi German occupiers created in Warsaw in the years between 1940 and 1943 from a distinct spatial perspective. Following the example of authors such as Dan Stone, Anne Kelly Knowles, Tim Cole, Alberto Giordano, Paolo Giaccaria and Claudio Minca, my study, thus, makes a case for the relevance of spatial analysis in the context of the Holocaust.Seeing the ghetto itself as a form of violence exerted against the Jews, I proceed in two steps: In the first part of the study, I trace out which German policies and actions created and shaped the space of the ghetto and how it changed over time due to shifts in the Nazi German agenda and the practices on site. The analysis is guided by the objective of making transparent the administrative processes and responsibilities involved in the ghetto’s creation and management. At the same time, the analysis pursues questions regarding violence, power dynamics, segregation, spatial appropriation and ownership, identity-formation, as well as social, cultural and economic exclusion. In the second part of the study, I shift the focus to explore the space of the ghetto as it was perceived, experienced and described by the people held within it. Building largely on war-time diaries and post-war memoirs, the study investigates particular examples, constellations and recurring situations to further explore how the spatial environment – both in its physical and social dimensions – negatively affected Jewish everyday life, cultural practices, social and personal identity-formation and social relationships. By showing that the ghetto space was inherently adverse to Jewish life, I will advocate a view of the ghetto that emphasizes the violent nature of the spatial environment itself.The analysis of the observations from first-hand accounts is based on concepts and terminology from a broad range of theoretical approaches from the fields of history, urban studies, architecture, (human) geography, anthropology, political theory, philosophy, and sociology, making the study inherently interdisciplinary.

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Schimmelreitergeschichte: companion species and cultural techniques in Jahrhundertwende novellas by Hofmannsthal and Storm (2017)

The thesis at hand investigates horse-riding in two novellas of the German Jahrhundertwende era: Hugo von Hofmannsthal’s Reitergeschichte (1899) and Theodor Storm’s Der Schimmelreiter (1888). Cultural and Literary Animals Studies (CLAS), a newly evolving, interdisciplinary area of research, constitutes the framework for the analysis which focuses on equitation as a human-animal relationship with cultural and literary entanglements. Two theories from the larger context of posthumanism and concerned with humanimal practices are used to untangle the multitude of agents involved in riding: the Companion Species (CS) approach as introduced by Donna Haraway and the Cultural Techniques (CT) approach as introduced by German Media Studies scholars. The CS concepts allow an analysis of the human-equine figures and contact zones in the texts, while the CT notions enable an examination of the recursive chains of operations in horse-riding as a body technique. I have combined the approaches to engage with the material and semiotic complexities of equitation. Entangling them generates new methodological tools: world-making, emerging thirds, natureculturalization and earthiness. The literary texts are accompanied by research in Equitation Science and horsemanship manuals to enable even deeper practical insights. The interpretations of Reitergeschichte and Der Schimmelreiter untangle the concatenated links, loops, and liminal zones between the rhythmic movements of rider, horse and earthy ground. Therefore, the earthiness of riding stands out and in a larger conceptual and cultural context, it indicates the seismic shifts of the Jahrhundertwende’s trembling transitions in art, science and society, and humanity’s grounding troubles. The thesis thereby expands the CLAS framework into the fields of Ecocriticism and Environmental Humanities.

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Alternate history - alternate memory: counterfactual literature in the context of German normalization (2012)

This dissertation examines a variety of Alternate Histories of the Third Reich from the perspective of memory theory. The term ‘Alternate History’ describes a genre of literature that presents fictional accounts of historical developments which deviate from the known course of history. These allohistorical narratives are inherently presentist, meaning that their central question of “What If?” can harness the repertoire of collective memory in order to act as both a reflection of and a commentary on contemporary social and political conditions. Moreover, Alternate Histories can act as a form of counter-memory insofar as the counterfactual mode can be used to highlight marginalized historical events. This study investigates a specific manifestation of this process. Contrasted with American and British examples, the primary focus is the analysis of the discursive functions of German-language counterfactual literature in the context of German normalization. The category of normalization connects a variety of commemorative trends in postwar Germany aimed at overcoming the legacy of National Socialism and re-formulating a positive German national identity. The central hypothesis is that Alternate Histories can perform a unique task in this particular discursive setting. In the context of German normalization, counterfactual stories of the history of the Third Reich are capable of functioning as alternate memories, meaning that they effectively replace the memory of real events with fantasies that are better suited to serve as exculpatory narratives for the German collective. To develop the theoretical framework for this new category, the dissertation delineates and contrasts pertinent theories of both collective memory and counter-memory and harnesses the scholarly findings of these fields to expand existing critical understandings of the genre of Alternate History. The combination of this sociological approach with the methodology of literary studies is applied in a close reading to an exemplary selection of Alternate Histories, grouped into three themes which correspond closely to prominent narratives of German collective memory: The universalization of National Socialism, the motif of the ‘good German,’ and the myth of German victimization. This approach demonstrates in detail the narrative strategies that constitute alternate memory in the context of German normalization.

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File-based autobiographies after 1989 (2011)

This study analyzes four autobiographical accounts written after the fall of the Berlin Wall by former data subjects, i.e., by individuals who have been under the surveillance of the East German Stasi (Staatssicherheit). Following a suggestion by Cornelia Vismann, I refer to these texts as “file-based autobiographies.” The term reflects the fact that they were written in response to the opening of the Stasi archives and the passing of the Stasi Files Act, which allowed data subjects to access their files. By constructing narratives using files written and compiled by informers and secret police officials rather than relying on their own, personal memories, these data subjects challenge the traditional aesthetics of autobiographies and subvert the usual expectations of autobiographical reading. “File-based autobiographies" constitute nothing less than a new autobiographical sub-genre. Rather than offering a personal story that begins in early childhood and ends later in life, data subjects engage in a revision of their lives using files written by a hostile third party. The four case studies show how people under surveillance may need to draw on such documents, even if they are inaccurate, in order to support their claims of authenticity and thus fulfill the autobiographical pact. In this way, these autobiographers acquire and re-functionalize the hostile documents, thus challenging the original purposes for which the files were kept. They show that using their files not only results in unexpected memory processes, but is also a political and literary process that supports their personal agendas and targets particular audiences. Access to and subsequent use of their files gives them the authority to discuss their reaction to the opening of the Stasi files as well as the records themselves.

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