The psychologization of the socialist self: East German forensic psychology and its deviants, 1945-1975

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In the late 1940s and throughout most of the 1950s, East Germany largely criminalized and politicized such things as drug abuse, alcoholism, delinquency, and even mental illness, often treating them as moral threats and acts of subversion. By the 1960s, however, policy makers, courts, and social services in the GDR, in a development paralleled in other industrialized countries at the time, began turning to psychological and psychiatric approaches in addressing antisocial behaviour. Based on published and archival records, this essay argues that this change was the result of a constellation of social, party-political, institutional, and international developments that led not only to a reconsideration of anti-social conduct in the GDR, but also to a sweeping reconceptualization of the psychological workings of the individual within socialism, culminating in the ideal of the 'socialist personality.' This mirrored trends in contemporary western Europe and the United States, granting psychological complexity and depth to deviant personalities in East Germany; however, it represented less a pragmatic concession to western reforms than an extension of the socialist Utopian project. As a result, professionals and policy-makers in the GDR minted an historically unique concept of deviance that wedded Marxism-Lenin-Leninism with mainstream psychiatry and psychology. The example of forensic psychology in East Germany raises important questions about the relationship between liberal, socialist, and fascist projects of social reform in twentieth-century Germany.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)181-205
Number of pages25
JournalGerman History
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History


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