Bachmann, Ronald/Wurst, Claudia (Hrsg.): Ostdeutsche Lebensverhältnisse unter Wandlungsdruck. Eine Gemeindestudie zu sozialen Seiten der deutsch-deutschen Vereinigung, 324 S., Lang, Frankfurt a. M. u. a. 1996.

Bachmann and Wurst, as well as the other authors and students in this collective effort, present us with a study of Oberwiesenthal, a vacation spot in the Erzgebirge close to the border of Czechoslovakia, in which they compare local society before and after the collapse of communism. Why they have chosen Oberwiesenthal is not sufficiently clear, other than it is close to the University of Bayreuth, where the authors are part of the chair for the research of regional development within the faculty of Geoscience. The book, in essence, is a sociological study.

Bachmann and Wurst attempt to discern the degree of the "social legitimation" of the transformation process from communism to capitalism by focusing on the impact of the process on the people of Oberwiesenthal (pop. 3400). They accomplish this with interviews, 172 in all, each of which took on average one and a half hours. The interviews consisted of a mix of standardized questions, which allow for quantitative comparison, and qualitative questions, which allow one to get closer to everyday life or "Lebenswelt". The interviews were conducted in 1992 and the comparison is between 1988 and 1992.

The results offer a picture of desolation, with which we are all too familiar, but which social scientists rarely document so precisely and so locally. Herein lies the value of the study: with great precision, one may discern the effect of, for example, unemployment on men and on women as well as on different age cohorts. The authors are also able to quantify some of the "subjective" factors governing how the people of Oberwiesenthal perceive the transformation from communism to capitalism.

In its outlines, the story of the transformation is a dismaying one: women are negatively effected by the transformation much more than men; the younger age cohorts belong in disproportionate high number to those who have left their homes and families; the generation of men and (especially) women who are now forty or older have been particularly devastated by the process and, as such, have become a lost generation; and many of the older people forced into early retirement are quite embitted by the situation. Consequently, the authors maintain, the terms of adherence to the norms and values of a capitalist democratic order has been decoupled from everyday life, marked, as it is for many people in Oberwiesenthal, by the constant threat of unemployment.

Thus the cumulative effect of the transformation has been nothing short of devastating for the people of Oberwiesenthal (despite the fact that in 1992 alone the Federal Government paid nearly a billion marks in various forms of unemployment and wage compensation for the district of Annaberg-Buchholz, in which Oberwiesenthal is a community). Every second household in Oberwiesenthal is dependent on some sort of social help. More people, the authors argue, were below the poverty line, or close to it, in 1992 than was the case in 1988. And more dramatically still, 93 % of the households have lost some of their margin of safety (Subsistenzspielraum) since 1988, while 7 % have remained more or less as secure, and only 1 % are financially more secure than was the case in 1988.

These are telling numbers, and it is a great service to pull them together as the authors have. But if there is a shortcoming quantification, supported by elaborate graphs and charts, gets, as Milan Kundera once said of politics, to the heart of the real. When discussing unemployment statistics, the authors are on safe ground. But when they compare life before and after the wall they all to slavishly adhere to a fallacy according to which only that which can be counted really counts. Thus there are some absurd comparisons. Without a trace of irony, they solemnly tell us that party-political engagement has decreased from 37 % in 1988 to 7 % in 1992, adding, almost as an afterthought, that the character and place of political parties has of course dramatically changed. Similarly without irony, they explain that many people think that there is not as much togetherness and mutual reinforcement (Zusammenhalt) in 1992 as in 1988. Perhaps they are right. But nearly twenty pages later we learn that Oberwiesenthal, precisely because it was a vacation resort for party bureaucrats, had a very high percentage of Stasi workers (formal and informal). How high is unclear. When asked in 1992, 8 % of those interviewed said that they had worked for the Stasi. But according to ex-Stasi workers from Oberwiesenthal, the number should be closer to 70 %. The authors suggest with all the social science seriousness they can muster: that this points to a discrepancy in the data. Unfortunately, it does more than that: it illustrates the shortcomings of a study too cluttered with sociology à tout prix; but without a deeper, subtiler, local knowledge to complement their revealing demographic data.

Vanderbilt University, Helmut Walser Smith


Dr. Volker Köhler
(Essays und Rezensionsaufsätze)

Janika Schiffel
(Einzelrezensionen und Heftproduktion)

Nicole Ihrig


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