Working Paper 78

The Loss of Trust: changing social relations in the workplace in eastern Germany

Tatjana Thelen

Project Group Legal Pluralism

Year of publication

Number of pages

Working Paper 78

Starting from the observation that many East Germans perceive a loss of trust in interpersonal relations since unification, I argue that as anthropologists we have to take these perceptions seriously and examine their validity. Working relations in the socialist past had specific traits, including their multi-functionality and the large amount of time colleagues spent together, that were different from working relations in Western capitalist countries. Both features influenced the character of communication and allowed for a mutual familiarity to develop, which was a prerequisite for the trust many placed in their colleagues. With the political changes, people of the former GDR not only lost familiarity with the workings of the system, but the nature of social relations in the workplace changed as well. This development contributes to the experience of loss, but closer exploration reveals that it is also due to a shift of risks. Thus, to understand the local interpretation we have to take into account structural circumstances. In addition, the theory of trust in interpersonal relations has to involve the largely dismissed dimension of work mate relations. Furthermore, there are hints that the political and economic transformation has led to narrower personal networks in which trust is placed almost exclusively in members of the core family. If this proves to be more than a transitional phenomenon, it would indicate that the post-socialist transformation in East Germany has led to a certain degree of ?re-traditionalisation? of social relations.

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