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Making Heimat in the modern world: state, Catholicism, and nature in a Bavarian village community

Liu, Danfeng (2021) Making Heimat in the modern world: state, Catholicism, and nature in a Bavarian village community. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004313


This thesis is an ethnographic study of ‘Heimat’ (home) in a Bavarian village, and how Heimat is made in relationship with the German nation-state, the Catholic church, and the experience of nature. At a time when the village has lost its previous political and economic significance, local efforts to make Heimat have become vital to regenerate the village community. Major economic and political changes since World War II have led to substantial changes in the village, especially the decline of ‘big families’ and rise of local associations (Vereine) as the main organisational force. Against this historical backdrop, local identities emerge in the tensions and entanglements between state formation and local practice. The political reality of Heimat is defined by the ways in which villagers reveal and bridge oppositions between official and vernacular discourses. Aside from government and state, Catholicism also plays an indispensable role in articulating senses of community in Heimat. The ethics and organisational forms of the Catholic Church offer alternative ideals and institutions to secular ones; they can also provide connections between state and village. Furthermore, villagers’ experience of Heimat at present are crucially expressed in the local idea of ‘returning to nature to heal society’s illnesses.’ This local idiom incorporates contradictory characteristics, as a metaphor of villagers’ investments in and hopes for Heimat itself, and with exclusionist connotations. Nature in this sense is both a source of morality for a society deemed lacking and ultimately beyond human morality, for only nature that is essentially different from human society has the power to heal. The unreachability of this idea of nature is its very strength. Heimat, similarly, operates based on a core paradox: to maintain Heimat, villagers tend to externalise the inherent problems of Heimat to an imagined opposition between the ‘traditional village’ (as Heimat) and the ‘modern city’ (as its ultimate ‘other’, with ethnic diversity). But an analysis of the local dialectical understandings of modern time and the corresponding meanings of Heimat reveal that Heimat is essentially a product of modernity.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2021 Danfeng Liu
Library of Congress subject classification: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BR Christianity
B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BX Christian Denominations
G Geography. Anthropology. Recreation > GN Anthropology
Sets: Departments > Anthropology
Supervisor: Cannell, Fenella and Steinmüller, Hans

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