Promotionsprogramm "Transformationsprozesse in Europäischen Gesellschaften"

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Simon-Benedikt Zeitler, M.A.



Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Institut für Volkskunde/Europäische Ethnologie
Oettingenstr. 67
80538 München


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Dissertation Project

Political Rumours - An Inquiry About Recent Conjunctures in the German Political Sphere

Within the last years German society has witnessed the emergence of new configurations of political actors as well as new ways of problematizing and pressing political issues. Not alone but definitely most prominently these forms thematize matters of migration or deal with situations that have been put on the agenda on the context of influx of refugees into Europe and Germany. Probably the most striking example of events like the ones I’m researching on happened in January 2016, when a teenage girl was allegedly raped by a refugee in Eastern Berlin. Although the police soon found out and publically announced that they had no evidence that such a crime had happened it didn’t stop thousands of people in cities all over the country from gathering in demonstrations and demanding harsher approaches to treating refugees in general due to this alleged sexual assault. The Berlin case may be the most drastic and the biggest in numbers of such events - for now. But it stands in a lineage of an ever growing amount of political formations that follow similarly shaped argumentations.
The extreme speed of these rumours spreading is most always facilitated by the means of social media. However internet-based communication also brings along another dimension: it enables people to form alliances and act on a collective basis easily because it doesn’t require long time experience in how to organize activist groups. I analyze this as a new form of grassroots activism based on and bolstered by hearsay that is able to cause serious problems for societies in which the act.
What many of the people being mobilized by such political rumors have in common is a rather flexible relation to fact-based explanations. It is remarkable how strong the resistances if not immunities are towards falsifications or to evidence that out to prove them wrong. In my eyes, an analyses that is able to put the emergence of political rumors in a societal context needs to see them also as at least partly ideological projects. The will to believe something even at the price of having to split off contradicting knowledge can be understood as quintessentially ideological act as the subject has to shift away from the sphere of reasoning and needs to find stability and cohesion elsewhere. In this aspect my research is also influenced by critical theory and the criticism of ideology.
My PhD thesis is dedicated to getting a deeper understanding of how and why so many people are being moved by these rumours and especially why holding on to these figures of argumentation can be transferred into a successful political strategy. One of my preliminary theses is that these discoursive figures of hearsay are able to mobilize people on an affective level and thus capturing people on an extremely intimate dimension of their very own subjectivity.
Methodologically I am undertaking comparative and in-depth inquiries of different case studiesand will look closely at the discourses and the environments which they take place inBut besides researching (social) media I am eager to combine it with on site observation of events such as political rallies and other public gatherings, knowing that this might be a challenging endeavor since many of these events outlined above happen an small scale levels and do not have a large longevity.

PhD supervisor: Prof. Dr. Johannes Moser