06 November 2015

PhD Defence: “Race, Colonialism and the Figure of the Jew in a New Germany”

Ms Younes delineates the dis-/continuities of “race” through antiracism policies in an ostensible “post-race” Germany, at the height of its political power among contemporary European nation states.

On 2 November 2015 Ms Anna Esther Younes defended her PhD thesis in Development Studies at the Graduate Institute. The committee was presided by Professor Gopalan Balachandran and included Professor Riccardo Bocco, thesis director, as well as Professor Judith Butler from the University of California. Ms Younes tells us more about her research and findings.

What is the subject of your research?

My dissertation examines the phantasmatic as well as fantasy constructions of the white German nation, particularly around the figure of the Jew as this figure is differentially conjured in the “New Germany” following its intense mobilisation since WWII and post-socialist Reunification. It delineates the dis-/continuities of “race” through anti-racism policies in an ostensible “post-race” Germany, at the height of its political power among contemporary European nation states.

How do you approach this subject?

I draw a theoretical line between a postcolonial and critical race theory perspective, on the one hand, and psychoanalysis, on the other hand. The latter is used in order to elucidate the connections between sanitised state discourses (of a new anti-Semitism, as well as terror(-ism), the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and Germany’s own self-image as a liberal and modern nation), and emotional discourses about the same attendant issue, which were observed and recorded in voluntary adult education workshops in Berlin.

And what are your major findings?

The seeming disconnect between anti–Anti-Semitism policies and anti-racism policies in Germany – or even Europe for that matter – reproduces and maintains fantasies and material constructions of race and racism. My dissertation is thus a critical assessment around that “uncanny” doubling that maintains a racialised discourse at the same moment that it disavows racism.

What made you decide to work on this subject?

People have written a lot about anti-Semitism in Germany (or about Nazi or Germany’s anti-Semitism). However, very little has been written – for various good reasons – about the intersections between anti-Semitism, racism and post-colonial theory and experiences. Because this topic is so central to understanding contemporary German society and yet so vastly under-theorised, I felt it to be a necessary subject.

Can you give us examples of topical issues on which your research might help shed a new light?

It can contribute to the long, emotive and divisive discussion whether and how anti-Semitism and (colonial) racism are connected. It can also contribute to critical reappraisals of so-called “new anti-Semitism” throughout Europe, itself a mixture of media debates in the context of the contested politics around Israel/Palestine and recently also around the on-going refugee/asylum-seeker crisis. More specifically, my dissertation offers readers a glimpse of the interconnectedness between ostensibly new forms of racism in Germany and that “new anti-Semitism”.
Questions of white subject formation in a supposedly post-race nation are also tackled and were traced in their psychic construction, a method that could be deployed by researchers to other national contexts.
Finally, by placing Germany as a nation state in the midst of an ostensible post-colonial Europe where Germany is many times treated as “exceptional”, my research provides its readers with a set of critical tools to unpack and examine this promoted national “exception”.

What will you remember most about your doctoral experience?

The institutional contexts in which I worked through my ideas, or theories of “race” more generally, were frequently hostile or apathetic. I will not forget the love and intellectual support from a network of friends and allies who commented, edited and discussed, and without whom I could not have completed this PhD. As my external reader said: “It takes more than just one person to write a PhD.”

Finally, what bearing will your research have on your career plans?

As I said, my experience with topics around "race" and colonialism, but also with my PhD more generally, has been a struggle. If I had thought only in terms of career plans, I should have tackled a different subject! However, I hope to pursue further research and even teaching. But I learned what the “pessimism of the mind and the optimism of the will” might – maybe – mean.

Illustration: The Mirror, 2013. Courtesy of George Naoum.