Knowing the Secret Police

Knowing the Secret Police: Secrecy and Knowledge in East German Society

This project explores questions of secrecy and power in relation to the East German Secret Police, the Stasi, and East German society. It overturns the approach of existing research to ask not what the ‘all-powerful’ Stasi knew about society, but what and how East Germans knew about the ‘secret police’. This project investigates how different kinds of knowledge were circulated through social, religious, political and literary networks. It puts these explorations into conversation with the study of how such knowledge was represented in the literature at the time of the GDR and how it was reflected on in literature written after the Stasi-archives opened. In doing so it pays heed to how information and understandings also passed across the inner-German border. The project is based on the hypothesis that navigating the 'public secret' of the Stasi relied on varied forms of political agency and gave rise to many kinds of political identity. As a result, it aims to challenge narratives about former citizens of the GDR as 'moulded' by the 'SED-dictatorship' and lacking the civic virtues necessary to participate in contemporary democratic life. The project includes three strands (social networks; literary representations and memory work) and four studies within the social network study.

The project involved key German project partners: the Federal Agency for Civic Education in Bonn (BpB) and a local branch of the Federal Agency for Stasi-files in Magdeburg (BStU). It is funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AH/R005915/1). ‌

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