To whom, and for whom, must I respond? Negotiating responsibility during the last years of East German state socialism
Abstract:This paper reconsiders the practice of responsibility during the last years of East German state socialism. It treats the matter of responsibility as a kind of dialogue, attending to the various ways in which people were called upon to respond to and account for their actions and those of others across a range of circumstances and predicaments. It addresses several basic questions, among them: What did the ordinary practice of responsibility look like in the East? How did this requirement to respond to and for others affect the arrangements of ordinary living? More specifically, how did the practice of responsibility work out geographically?
The approach taken here is both practical and analytic. It attends to the practical and constitutive aspects of dilemmas of responsibility across a range of situations. It is also historical and ethnographic, based on the city and district of Rostock, and drawing upon a range of primary source materials, from security reports to interviews to sermons delivered during the 1980s. The paper shows some of the ways in which the practice of responsibility played itself out in relation to place. For example, residents themselves invoked a rhetoric of responsibility, criticizing local officials for being unresponsive or indifferent to their concerns. Others found ways to generate ambiguity about how the rules of the state were to be applied in particular circumstances. Finally, some residents simply refused to socialize and otherwise assume responsibility for certain others both at work and at home.