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The Spirit of Capitalism and the Boundaries of Citizenship in Post-Wall Germany

  • Daphne Berdahl (a1)

Immediately after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, one of the most pervasive media images consisted of East Germans on a frenetic, collective shopping spree. For many western Germans, as well as for much of the world, the “triumph” of capitalism and democracy seemed to be reflected and confirmed in the “consuming frenzy” (Konsumrausch) of the “Ossis” (East Germans). Although these images of consumption following the collapse of socialism were new, they were structured by and contributed to a dominant narrative of “democratization” and national legitimacy in which access to consumer goods and consumer choice are defined as fundamental rights and democratic expressions of individualism. Indeed, many observers have since suggested that the transitions of 1989 were not about demands for political or human rights, but for consumer rights (e.g., Bauman 1992; Borneman 1992; Drakulic 1991). They were also, I would add, about consumer rites—about the making of citizen-consumers.

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Comparative Studies in Society and History
  • ISSN: 0010-4175
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