Current Institutional Affiliation
Doctoral Candidate, Vanderbilt University

Award Information

International Dissertation Research Fellowship 2013
Institutional Affiliation (at time of award):
History, Vanderbilt University
The Pollsters and the People: German Social Scientists and the Pursuit of a Post-Fascist Public

My dissertation will examine the West German social scientists who sought to theorize, identify, and render legible a national democratic "public" through empirical opinion and market research. My project will show how opinion researchers responded to, and built upon, theoretical frameworks developed during World War II and the empirical work begun by occupation authorities in Germany in order to count, categorize, and study the lives and opinions of their countrymen. These researchers also linked their findings to the political and economic process in new ways, helping to envision and make sense of the West German transition to democracy from dictatorship. Instead of beginning with one definition of "the public" and of "public opinion," then, I will trace the varied and often conflicting attempts by West German opinion researchers and social scientists to define these concepts in theory and practice, focusing on research conducted in the 1940s up to the early 1970s. I will also explore reactions to empirical opinion research among the very "public" that these social scientists sought to analyze. My dissertation intersects with the work of scholars who have sought to determine what, after the horrors wrought by Nazism, explains the subsequent stabilization of democratic governments in Western Europe. While economic growth and Cold War pressures played a crucial role in the post-war democratic project and a corresponding society-wide reassessment of the relationship between citizens and states, I contend that these processes were also buttressed by the work of opinion researchers. Only by understanding the reconceptualization of "public opinion" that these pollsters led can we make sense of the larger intellectual and cultural shifts that structured the post-war trajectory of Western Europe. An SSRC grant for the 2013-14 academic year will allow me to conduct archival research in order to uncover how West German social scientists contributed to this process.