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Unit information: Radical Protest and Political Violence in post-WWII Germany – Politics, Aesthetics, and Critical Theory in 2017/18

Unit name Radical Protest and Political Violence in post-WWII Germany – Politics, Aesthetics, and Critical Theory
Unit code GERM30061
Credit points 20
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Debbie Pinfold
Open unit status Not open




School/department Department of German
Faculty Faculty of Arts


This unit will be taught by Dr Katharina Karcher

Determined to promote peace and democracy in the aftermath of WWII, political authorities in West Germany adopted the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949. The fundamental rights enshrined in the German constitution include freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom from discrimination based on faith, gender, race, and homeland. But did the reality in post-WWII Germany live up to the ideal of a truly democratic society?

This unit focuses on groups in the Federal Republic who felt that they had to draw on unconventional and, in some cases, violent means to make their voices heard. It introduces students to the history and ideology of major protest movements and terrorist subcultures in post-WWII Germany and provides them with theoretical and methodological tools to analyse the historical and cultural legacy of these movements.

In weekly lectures and student-led seminars, we will explore the politics and aesthetics of a range of protest cultures, including the peace movement, the student movement of the 1960s, the New Women’s Movement, LGBTQ+ activism, the Environmental movement, the disability rights movement, left-wing extremism and terrorism, and right-wing extremism and terrorism. Each week we will focus on the history of a particular protest movement. Three questions will guide our discussions in seminars: 1. What were the aims of these movements, and how were the actors involved trying to achieve them? 2. How did the state respond to these movements? 3. What role did images and films play in these protest cultures, and how have they shaped the collective memory of political protest and violence in the Federal Republic of Germany?


- To introduce students to a range of protest cultures and terrorist movements in Germany since the Second World War - To enhance students’ capacity for critical engagement with primary and secondary sources on protest movements and terrorist activity - To promote a better understanding of the aesthetics and politics of images and films - To provide students with the skills and knowledge required to develop graduate research projects on contemporary German politics

Intended learning outcomes

By the end of the unit successful students will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate advanced knowledge and understanding, appropriate to Level H, of protest cultures and violent politics in Germany since 1945;
  2. Deploy a theoretical and methodological ‘toolbox’ for the study of historical and contemporary forms of protest and political violence in Germany, and apply these theories and methods to other geo-political contexts;
  3. Articulate a critical understanding of how, why and with what implications protest and political violence are represented in visual imagery;
  4. Analyse examples of such visual representation in writing in close detail;
  5. Independently gather and synthesise research data, potentially serving as the basis for a future postgraduate project;
  6. Present independent judgements orally and in writing in an appropriate style and at a high level of complexity.

Teaching details

1x 1-hour lecture and 1x 1-hour seminar weekly.

Assessment Details

- One oral presentation (25%), testing ILOs (1)-(3) and (5)-(6) - One 1,500-word essay on a particular film or image/series of images (25%), testing ILOs (1)-(6) - One 3,000 word essay on a particular campaign or protest culture drawing on primary and/or secondary sources (50%), testing ILOs (1)-(6)

Reading and References

A range of primary sources will be made available online. Films for study include Bernhard Wicki, Die Brücke (1959); Stefan Krohmer, Dutschke (2009); Helke Sander, Der subjektive Faktor (1981); Rosa von Praunheim, Nicht der Homosexuelle ist pervers, sondern die Situation, in der er lebt (1971); Goggo Gensch, Wyhl? "Nai hämmer gsait!" (2013); Uli Edel, Der Baader Meinhof Komplex (2008); David Wnendt, Die Kriegerin (2011).

Background Reading:

- Dale, Gareth. 2005. Popular Protest in East Germany, 1945-1989. London: Routledge. - Goodbody, Axel (ed). 2002. The Culture of German Environmentalism: Anxieties, visions, realities. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books. - Karcher, Katharina. 2017. Sisters in Arms: Militant Feminisms in the Federal Republic of Germany since 1968. New York; Oxford: Berghahn Books. - Koehler, Daniel. 2016. Right-Wing Terrorism in the 21st Century: The ‘National Socialist Underground’ and the History of Terror from the Far-Right in Germany. London; New York: Routledge. - Roth, Roland & Dieter Rucht (eds.). 2008. Die Sozialen Bewegungen in Deutschland seit 1945: Ein Handbuch. Frankfurt; New York: Campus.

Sedlmaier, Alexander. 2014. Consumption and Violence: Radical Protest in Cold-War West Germany. The University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor [Michigan].