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SSEES Research Blog


A showcase of research from UCL's School of Slavonic and East European Studies staff and students


Folk Psychology: more than nationalist pseudo-science?

By Sean L Hanley, on 23 September 2013

KlautkeMindEgbert Klautke talks about his new book, which re-evaluates the historical discipline of  ‘Folk Pyschology’ in Germany. It was, he argues, more than nationalist pseudo-science.

 BB: How would you define ‘Folk Psychology’ and what drew you to the study of it?

Egbert Klautke: ‘Folk Psychology’ is an awkward translation of the German term Völkerpsychologie. Originally, it referred to attempts to study the psychological make-up of nations, and as such is a forerunner of today’s social psychology. However, in today’s common understanding, Völkerpsychologie equals national prejudice: it is seen as a pseudo-science not worth considering seriously.

My first book dealt with perceptions of the U.S.A. in Germany and France, and much of these views could be described as Völkerpsychologie: clichés and stereotypes about a foreign nation, which were of a surprisingly coherent nature. Back then, my rather naïve idea was that there must be a general theory behind these perceptions, and I embarked on a study of Völkerpsychologie.

 BB: Did any perceptions on the subject change from the time you started your research to the time you completed the book?

EK: When I started my research, I shared the general view of Völkerpsychologie as a flawed attempt to present national stereotypes as academic research, and was suspicious of its nationalist agenda and racist undertones. I also considered it typically German. Having completed the book, I have a much more sympathetic view of ‘folk psychology,’ at least of the early attempts by [Moritz] Lazarus, [Heymann] Steinthal and [Wilhelm] Wundt. Despite its flaws and shortcomings, Völkerpsychologie was a serious and honourable attempt to introduce a social science to the university curriculum. As such, it influenced pioneers of the social sciences not only in Germany, but also around the world.

 BB: What are some of the factors that led to the demise of this kind of psychology?

 EK: Most importantly: the Third Reich. Even though the Nazis were not particularly interested in ‘folk psychology’ after 1945 this approach was quickly associated with Nazi theories and race ideologies. The genuine weaknesses of ‘folk psychology’ contributed to its demise, but it was mainly the assumption that Völkerpsychologie was part of Nazi thinking that contributed to this process. By the 1960s, the very term had become a taboo in the social sciences. (more…)

Nazi storm-troopers’ cigarettes

By Sarah J Young, on 11 September 2013

Marketing the Storm troopers’ cigarettes (Image reproduced by kind permission of the Münchner Stadtmuseum, P C 13/70)

Marketing the Storm troopers’
cigarettes (Image reproduced
by kind permission of the Münchner
Stadtmuseum, P C 13/70)

Cigarette marketing in the inter-war period opens up a new angle on Nazi history, finds Daniel Siemens.

Smoking cigarettes became a mass phenomenon during and shortly after World War I. No longer associated exclusively with oriental luxury, smoking nevertheless marked differences – of regional provenance, social class and also of political orientation. In 1926, the cigarette pack was successfully introduced in Germany.

This innovation not only resulted in a boost sales, it also allowed for a new form of marketing. The rectangular boxes proved to be an ideal place for graphic illustrations that helped to identify specific cigarette brands. The marketing of some brands soon reacted to the actual political, social or economic situation. Between 1930 and 1932, in a period of rapidly rising unemployment figures in Germany, these advertisements sometimes used drastic images of emergencies, such as a traffic accident or a shipwreck. It suggested that the smoker of these particular brands reacted serenely and composedly in the face of such situations – coolness desperately sought after by millions of Germans confronted with personal economic ruin, often accompanied by family ruptures.

The late 1920s were the ‘Kampfzeit [time of struggle] of the cigarette market’ – not a direct allusion to Nazi terminology, but a contemporary wording used by the market players. Technological invention and the breakthrough of modern marketing techniques in Weimar Germany forced the cigarette companies into fierce competition. It was precisely in this period, in 1929, that a certain Arthur Dressler approached the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) and its Sturmabteilung (Storm Troopers, the SA) with his plans for a new cigarette factory in Dresden. The Saxon capital had been one of the centres of the cigarette industry in Germany since the late 19th century.

The late 1920s were a remarkable time for a start-up enterprise in this already largely saturated industry, all the more so as Dressler lacked the considerable means necessary for such an investment. But Dressler, an NSDAP Party member, had an interesting idea: he suggested producing a home brand SA cigarette. If the SA would be willing to pressurize their men into consuming his new brand exclusively, he promised the militia a reward of about 15 to 20 Pfennig for every 1000 cigarettes sold. The SA leadership in Munich approved the plan, and with the help of a successful Dresden businessman the ‘Cigarettenfabrik Dressler Kommanditgesellschaft’, better known under the name of her major brand ‘Sturm’, was established. (more…)