Willy Brandt during his speech in Krefeld in front of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Museum
Willy Brandt during his speech in Krefeld in front of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Museum

Subproject The Voice of the People: West Germany

Duration
1 September 2020 until 31 August 2023
Project member(s)
M. Fischer (Malte)
Project type
Research

In this subproject of The Voice of the People, Malte Fischer seeks to explore how ordinary citizens in the Bonn Republic have perceived the postwar political system. It investigates the expectations citizens had of their political representatives and analyses how citizens have imagined their own role in the postwar political order. The project draws upon a wide variety of sources including the letters citizens sent to political parties, parliament and individual politicians, and the archives of newspapers, magazines and broadcasting organisations.

Some of the questions this subproject seeks to answer are: How did ordinary citizens make sense of democracy and what did democracy actually mean to them? Did they primarily perceive it as a (static) political system or as a dynamic process of democratisation that also permeated their private lives? Which concepts and frames did they use in their discussion of democracy and what does this tell us about the knowledge citizens had of the political system? What was their main reference point: local, regional or national politics? How did they react to the changing selection, background and behaviour of their MPs throughout the postwar years? How did citizens respond to the activities of extra-parliamentary movements?

On top that, the subproject addresses the various ways in which the notion of 'the people' and 'the citizen' have been conceptualised in postwar political debates. How did politicians, journalists and other political actors make sense of these notions within the context of the postwar democratic political order? Which categorisations did they introduce to break down these abstract concepts? Which assumptions about popular expectations and knowledge of politics lay behind their discussions of postwar democracy and political representation?

Results

  • Malte Fischer, '»Ein paar militärisch-knappe Zeilen an die Rekrutierungsbehörde«. Populäre Erwartungen an die Demokratisierung der Bundeswehr in Bürgerbriefen an Helmut Schmidt, 1964–1971', Militärgeschichtliche Zeitschrift 83/1 (forthcoming, May 2024), 47–86.
  • Malte Fischer, Solange Ploeg and Harm Kaal, ‘''Now it is our turn to talk": Interaction between citizens and politicians on television in West-Germany and the Netherlands, 1950s-1970s'. Blogpost L.I.S.A. Wissenschaftsportal Gerda Henkel Stiftung, 15 January 2022.
  • Malte Fischer, ‘Project Introduction: The Voice of the People’, Rundfunk & Geschichte 1-2 (2022).

Funding

  • Gerda Henkel Foundation