'Wechselschritt zwischen Anpassung und aufrechtem Gang': Negotiating the Tensions between Literary Ambition and Political Constraints at the Institut für Literatur 'Johannes R. Becher' Leipzig (1950-1990)

  • Marina Micke

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis explores how the Institut für Literatur 'Johannes R. Becher', an East German institution for the training of writers, negotiated tensions that arose from the conflicting demands between literary and political values. The Institute had the objective to foster emerging literary talents according to the socialist ideal of a working writer, but often found students and staff drawn towards more autonomous literary values that were incompatible with the views of the East German Socialist Unity Party. As a result, the Institute's practices fluctuated between toeing the party line and pursuing literary ambitions.An overview of the existing scholarship shows that the Institute and its function have been highly politicised and hardly subjected to analyses that allow for a more nuanced appraisal of its practices. As a result, the study of the Institut has not been able to transcend the binary differentiation between assent and dissent and the Institute is either presented as a liberal haven or an orthodox academy with little artistic value.This thesis addresses this issue by applying Bourdieu's' theory of cultural production, more specifically his notion of field, capital and habitus, to the study of the Becher Institute. Three case studies that form the core of this dissertation investigate how cultural capital in its institutionalised, embodied, and objectified form was accumulated, converted and exchanged by the Institute, how it tried to reconcile the tensions between cultural policy and creative aspirations and how these tensions affected the Institute's common habitus. The first case study will show how the Institute's founding shaped the institutionalised capital it represented and question the importance that has been attributed to prominent political figures during the founding process. The second case study examines the role of the lecturer and the influence their embodied capital had on the Institute. Two lecturers, working writer Werner Bräunig and poet Georg Maurer, and their representation of the Institute's multiple habitus will be the focus of the analysis. The third and final case study is dedicated to objectified cultural capital in the form of the Institute's publications during the 1970s. The Institute's orthodox publications have so far been overlooked by scholars in favour of its more controversial literary output, which gives a misleading impression of the Institute's literary output that I aim to amend.By developing a sociological framework for the study of the Institute, this thesis is able to investigate the Institute and its practices as a social and literary space under the watchful eye of the Socialist Unity Party, without denying its pedagogical and cultural dimensions. The findings will reveal a deeply conflicted institution that struggled throughout its existence to resolve the tensions between literary ambitions and political restraints as well as the contradictions within the literary field itself.
Date of Award1 Aug 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorMatthew Philpotts (Supervisor) & Stephen Parker (Supervisor)


  • Cultural Institution
  • Bourdieu
  • Cultural Capital
  • Cultural Production
  • Cultural Field
  • East Germany
  • Literary Practice
  • Cultural Policy
  • Writer Training
  • Becher Institut
  • Institut für Literatur "Johannes R. Becher"
  • Deutsche Demokratische Republik
  • DDR
  • German Democratic Republic
  • GDR
  • Cultural Practice

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