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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Sebastian Pampuch

Postcolonial exile in a divided Germany: biographical case studies

Betreuung: Prof. Dr. Beate Binder, Prof. Dr. Andreas Eckert

Förderung: „PROMI – Promotion inklusive“ (Universität Köln)



The German Democratic Republic (GDR) occupied a remarkable role in the decolonization of the African continent. However, these entanglements have not been investigated sufficiently, as one might expect, regarding the recent boom of Global History and Marxist influenced Post/Decolonial Theories. In parallel, “agent”, “structure”, and “Political Economy” are key concepts from (Cultural and Social) Political Anthropology. All these research areas, theories and concepts have almost never been simultaneously applied in biographical investigations in (European) Ethnology. Filling this gap, my project concentrates on a small, but politically as well as ideologically important group of exiled Freedom Fighters – members of African liberation movements like the African National Congress (ANC) of Nelson Mandela – who remained in Germany after having entered the territory of the GDR beginning in  the 1960s. They did so in the wake of the support the GDR gave to their political parties. Thus, with my research on them, I try to disclose some of the impacts which the entanglements between the GDR and Africa left on German “folk” and culture. In surveying biographical sketches and archived files of several individuals of this “subaltern elite”, and in analyzing various media publications that address their exile experiences or the larger context in which they occurred, I am interested in questions like the following:

What were the range, the possibilities and limits of their transnational political activity? How did they mingle with German society? What about transnational ties and citizenship? How, and in which spaces, is their participation in the liberation struggles of their home countries which led them into exile being remembered considering the division of Germany is a highly contested field? Will their narratives contradict or confirm the dominant discourse about the GDR which tends to focus on labor exploitation, segregation, and (suppressed) racism when it comes to migration issues? Do these life stories, marked by decolonization and the Cold War, hide the potential to overcome methodical nationalism and to shift the commanding German notion of the GDR as an encapsulated dictatorship to a more complex history – that of an entanglement between black communists and the German branch of the Communist International already during the interwar period, for instance? How did these racialized exiles, after having struggled against colonial exploitation by capitalist European powers, and after having lived decades in the non-capitalist GDR, adapt to the (old and/or new) Federal Republic of Germany? Do their narratives somehow fit into the larger and overwhelmingly white tale of exile experiences documented in literature? In short – what can we learn from these exiles about migration, race, and political economy in the divided and reunited Germany?

Thus, my investigation has the purpose to continue the idea of the GDR as a research field of methodological experimentation, structurally framed by African decolonization and the respective foreign policies and internal affairs of the two Germanys. The challenge is to combine a retrospective ethnological research of a (post)socialist European society by means of biographical investigation with paradigms like “Provincializing Europe” or “Entangled Histories”. Therefore, I use a theoretical framework not only from European Ethnology, but also from Political Anthropology, African Studies, and (Global) History. Crucial importance is attached to reflections on exile and postcolonial subjectivity written by racialized “Third World” intellectuals.


Schlüsselbegriffe / Keywords

Exile, Diaspora, Migration, German Democratic Republic, Africa, Freedom Fighters, Post-Colonialism, Post-Socialism, Decolonization, Biographical Research, Entangled Histories, Political Anthropology, Political Economy


Publikationen / Publications

Mahoma Mwakipunda Mwaungulu: ein malawischer Exilant im geteilten Berlin & Ushaber Eric Singh: Verflechtungen einer politischen Biographie, in: Diallo, Oumar/Zeller, Joachim (ed.): Black Berlin. Die deutsche Metropole und ihre afrikanische Diaspora in Geschichte und Gegenwart, Berlin 2013, p. 151-157 & 265-267

Afrikanische Freedom Fighters im Exil der DDR: postkoloniale Facetten einer “unerwünschten deutschen Geschichte”?, in: Braun, Karl/Schönholz, Christian (ed.): Repräsentation Schwarzer in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart. Hessische Blätter für Volks- und Kulturforschung Band 49, Marburg (forthcoming)


Curriculum Vitae

Studies of European Ethnology, German Literature and Spanish; Post Graduate Traineeship in Library Management; Data Librarian at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies; Research Assistant at the Department of European Ethnology at Humboldt University Berlin


Kontakt / Contact

E-Mail: sebastian.pampuch@hu-berlin.de

Mitarbeiterprofil am Institut für Europäische Ethnologie

Webseite: hu-berlin.academia.edu/SebastianPampuch