Tuesday, 18 June 2013


De facto purge of East German psychology

I have recently been reminded of something that raised virtually no remark in the West in the heady years following the fall of the Wall so rather than rely on my own distant memories, I thought that I would look it up on the Internet.

Like with many another thing, because I knew that it was there to be found, somewhere, I found it – but even so it took some finding.

Here's a handy summing up of what happened, by Lothar and Helga Sprung, for the International Union of Psychological Science
The development of psychology in united Germany: 1990–2000

After the two German states were unified on 3 October 1990, psychology in the new federal states, that is, in the territory of the former GDR, was newly organized. This was carried out exclusively according to the model of the old federal republic. This new organization process had two very different faces. On one hand, it led to the massive transfer of psychological scholars from the old federal republic to the new federal states within united Germany. Only in scattered cases was there a transfer in the opposite direction. After the unification of the FRG and the GDR, only academic psychologists from the former GDR were evaluated professionally by colleagues from the (old) FRG. Academically employed psychologists from the former GDR were the only ones who had to reapply for their own positions, often without success. The transfer, evaluations, and mandatory new application process for positions already held resulted in the loss of many positions for psychologists from the GDR in united Germany (Vilmar, 2000; cf. Also Scheler, 2000). However, a still greater loss of psychology positions was caused by the collapse of numerous research, educational, and praxis establishments in the former GDR during the unification process. Estimates of personnel and institutional losses for all the reasons cited here lie between 60 and 70%. On the other hand, the new organization of psychology in the new federal states was linked with a significant expansion in personnel, facilities, and technology at existing academic institutions and departments of psychology. Also, new institutes and departments were established at new and old academic institutions, for example in Potsdam, Greifswald, Halle-Wittenberg, Rostock, Magdeburg, and Zwickau. A new Max Planck Institute for Psychology was also established, the Max Planck Institute for Neuropsychologic Research in Leipzig. To summarize this aspect of the unification of the two Germanys, it can be said that more was achieved quantitatively and, to a certain extent, qualitatively, during the years from 1990 to 2000 in the part of Germany once called the German Democratic Republic than during the previous 41 years of the GDR’s existence.

If one applies formal criteria for the genesis of a scientific discipline to the development of psychology since the unification of both German states, then the development as a whole can be evaluated very positively at the start of the 21st century.
So that's all right then...?  A net gain over that decade (leaving out of the analysis all other relevant social and economic changes in the former East Germany over those years).

Broadening the analysis, however, one might conclude rather differently, that over that decade major institutional development stimulated from the West was not reflected in a corresponding increase in qualitative achievement.

Just history now?

A shabby, even shaming little business, a long time ago, bringing with it at the time personal distress and loss for individuals forced out of work and career, and no doubt all sorts of wider social and intellectual waste too  but all forgotten now.

No harm, however, in remembering. It may even help a little better to understand the present. The Sprungs quoted Ingrid Mittenzwei –
A people cannot choose its history. This is something that has occurred and is irretrievable; but a people can and must create a relationship to its origins… and use history to mobilize or to warn.
Explanatory note: abbreviations

FDR – the Federal German Republic, 'West Germany'
DDR – the German Democratic Republic, 'East Germany'

Sprung, L., Sprung, H. (2009) History of modern psychology in Germany in 19th- and 20th-century thought and society, Psychology: UpsyS Global Resource, Edition 2009, International Union of Psychological Science

No comments:

Post a Comment