Behind Closed Doors: Domestic Violence, Citizenship and State-Making in Divided Berlin, 1969-1990

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Freeland, Jane Elizabeth Cooper




This dissertation investigates the approaches taken to address domestic violence in East and West Berlin between 1969 and 1990. Both Germanys created a language to define domestic violence, which not only reflected and reinforced their self-definition as liberal or socialist states, but did so in a way that had important consequences for women and marginalized communities. Indeed, the contested interactions between the state, activists and citizens in responding to gender violence often centred on competing ideas on the role of gender and gender equality in society. Through an analysis of official state and grassroots responses to domestic violence, this dissertation argues that in addressing these forms of violence, competing visions of citizenship were negotiated by politicians, everyday Germans and activists alike. Although official efforts often only solidified normative heteropatriarchal visions of gender relationships, activists from either side of the Berlin Wall used citizenship as a standpoint to critique the state for failing to protect women from violence. Despite different levels of support available to women living with abusive partners in East and West, women across Germany were primarily responsible for tackling domestic violence and fomenting everyday gender equality. Placing the stories of East and West together then, makes these historically constituted processes of women’s marginalization visible, highlighting the similarities that existed across the Berlin Wall, despite very different political systems. This research, one of the first in depth historical examinations of domestic violence in Germany, sheds light on the role of gender in the postwar processes of state-making in East and West by examining how domestic abuse was addressed and discussed at the state level, by feminist activists and by citizens, critically looking at how this impacted women’s lives and their ability to leave a violent partner. This not only provides insight into how women’s voices are heard within and by the state, but it also draws our attention to the way violence works to create and reinforce gendered forms of citizenship. 


European History




Carleton University


Jane Freeland

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Theses and Dissertations

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