Apathy, Subversion, and the Network Sublime: Envisioning Youth Unrest in West Germany, 1980–87

  • Jake P. Smith
Part of the Palgrave Studies in the History of Social Movements book series (PSHSM)


The initial outbreak of the youth revolts that swept through European cities in the early 1980s caught many West German experts and social commentators completely by surprise. In the foreword to the 1983 publication of the West German Parliamentary Report on Youth Protests in a Democratic State, for example, Matthias Wissmann noted that ‘since the middle of the 1970s, the conversation always centred on the fact that there had never been a generation that was so adjusted, so integrated, and so quiet as the current one’.1 Such myopia was not limited to the representatives of the West German state. Indeed, according to Jörg Bopp, progressive social commentators’ tendency to lament the generational shift from political engagement to hedonism, inwardness and terrorism meant that they too largely missed the early signs of widespread youth unrest in the late 1970s.2 After years spent focusing on the failure of the younger generation to live up to their expectations, social commentators across the political spectrum were shocked when German youth took to the streets in record numbers to protest against bourgeois society in toto.


Media Outlet Youth Activist Protest Movement Commit Political Activist Youth Movement 
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  1. 1.
    M. Wissmann (1983) ‘Vorwort’, in M. Wissmann and R. Hauck (eds) Jugendprotest im demokratischen Staat. Enquete-Kommission des Deutschen Bundestages (Stuttgart: Edition Weitbrecht), p. 9.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    J. Bopp (October 1981) ‘Trauer-Power. Zur Jugendrevolte 1981’ Kursbuch, p. 151. For a critique of the culture of inwardness and withdrawal amongst the left-alternative milieu, see W. Kraushaar (ed.) (1978) Autonomie oder Getto? Kontoversen über die Alternativebewegung (Frankfurt: Verlag Neue Kritik).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    On the sublime, see among others, G. Hartley (2003) The Abyss of Representation: Marxism and the Postmodern Sublime (Durham, NC: Duke University Press).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. 15.
    P. Schulz-Hageleit (1981) ‘Auf der Suche nach neuen Formen des gemeinsamen Lebens’ Frankfurter Rundschau, 15 July. It is worth noting, at this point, that arguments positing a close correlation between the strictures of the social environment and youth unrest had a long history in Germany. See, for example, C. Bondy and J. Braden (1957) Jugendliche stören die Ordnung: Bericht und Stellungnahme zu d. Halbstarkenkrawallen (Munich: Juventa-Verlag).Google Scholar
  5. 16.
    For an overview of press reactions to the squatting movement in West Berlin in the early 1980s see R. Amann (1985) Der moralische Aufschrei: Presse und abweichendes Verhalten am Beispiel der Hausbesetzungen in Berlin (Frankfurt: Campus Verlag). According to Amann, the press created a moral panic surrounding the squatting movement and in so doing acted as an institution of social control, p. 36.Google Scholar

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© Jake P. Smith 2016

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  • Jake P. Smith

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