Alison Lewis (German Studies, Melbourne)

Secret Police Files, Contingency and Controlling Life’s Story

Ort: Virtual Lecture via Zoom

Zeit: 18.00 Uhr

Kontakt: Karena Weduwen

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Secret police files, especially the 111 kilometres of extant files compiled by the East German Stasi, or Staatssicherheitsdienst, offer some of the most illuminating records we have of the Cold War and life under communism. They document not only the massive extent of state repression and surveillance that the population was exposed to, they also bear poignant witness to the devastating impact of these practices on individuals’ lives. In the scholarly literature on police files, criminal records and secret police dossiers, historians have for good reason begun to compare these sources to biography and portraiture or life writing (Saunders 1984; LaCapra 1985; Capp 1993; Lewis 2003; Vatulescu 2010; Biber 2018; Glajar/Lewis/Petrescu 2016/2019). In a parallel development, literary historians have frequently emphasised the multiple affinities between secret police files and literary works, in particular crime fiction. In this lecture I will draw on these two complementary strands of research on secret police files to explore further how the Stasi files mobilise cultural techniques of biography to script major life events—ranging from marital breakdown, ill-health, professional failure and forced exile—that aimed to have deleterious and harmful real effects on lives. In particular, I will examine the question of contingency in the files and how the Stasi attempted to stage-manage lives in highly restrictive and invasive ways. This will be illustrated by examples from the personal Stasi file of Reiner Kunze. 

Die MLC Vorträge finden in diesem Semester aufgrund der Schutzmaßnahmen zur Eindämmung der Covid-19-Pandemie als virtuelle Vorträge über Zoom statt. Zuhörerinnen und Zuhörer sind herzlich willkommen.  Zur Anmeldung für eine Online-Lecture wenden Sie sich bitte an Karena Weduwen (karena.weduwen[at]


Alison Lewis(German Studies, Melbourne)

Secret Police Files, Contingency and Controlling Life’s Story – Virtual Lecture