Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Challenge of Modernity. German Social and Cultural Studies, 1890-1960

Academic journal article German Quarterly

The Challenge of Modernity. German Social and Cultural Studies, 1890-1960

Article excerpt

Saldern, Adelheid von. The Challenge of Modernity. German Social and Cultural Studies, 1890-1960. Trans. Bruce Little. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002. 408 pp. $75.00 hardcover.

The interpretive thrust of this collection of essays by Adelheid von Saldern is reflected, at least in part, in the title. In von Saldern's view, Germans experienced modernity as both a liberating experience and a threat, and for obvious reasons this is an ambiguity that has weighed more heavily on 20th-century Germany than on other countries. Von Saldern's work has been so influential because she has constantly found new perspectives from which to approach modernity as a social and, later, cultural experience while at the same time giving her work a critical edge by productively integrating concepts such as hegemony, gender, and governmentality into her analyses of German history from the Kaiserreich to the post-war era. It was this commitment to the integration of history and theory that enabled her to speak to, and learn from, the leading schools of social history on both sides of the Atlantic, and this transatlantic dialogue itself becomes the focus of her attention in Chapter 5, a comparative study of social rationalization in the United States and Germany.

The Challenge of Modernity brings together many of von Saldern's important essays in a readable translation that makes them accessible to an English-speaking audience. The volume includes a brief introduction by Geoff Eley that draws out the connections between von Saldern's intellectual biography and the development of the historical profession in Germany from critical social history to the new cultural history. What is most interesting in many of these essays are the ways in which her interest in popular culture and leisure are informed by a concern for power relationships and gender hierarchies and her use of discourse analysis and Alltagsgeschichte to mediate between politics, society, and culture from 1890 to 1960.

The book is divided into three parts: "The Dynamics of the Working-Class Movement in Society," "Social Rationalization and Gender," and "Popular Culture and Politics." While the bulk of the book is devoted to the "classical modernity" (Detlev Peukert) of the Weimar years, the last two chapters deal with the cultural politics of the Nazi and East German regimes. This organization reflects her own belief that "modernity was inseparably bound up with barbarism" (3) and her commitment to examining how these contradictions played out in different times and places. …

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