Civic Engagement As Biographical Work and Contribution to Mental Health

Monday, 11 July 2016: 10:00
Location: Hörsaal 32 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Heike STECKLUM, University of Göttingen, Germany
This contribution is based on results of my completed PhD thesis. It deals with life histories and stories of people who grew up and were socialised in the former German Democratic Republic (GDR), and suffer from mental illness. The reconstruction of these biographies (following Rosenthal 1995) as well as their respective biographical experiences provides the opportunity to investigate the processes of pathogenesis and salutogenesis. The case reconstructions give further insights concerning the socialisation in the GDR as well as the social transformation after 1989 – with reference to both mental health/illness as well as civic engagement. The contribution highlights the importance of a diachronic perspective in order to avoid partial and individualised views of pathogenesis and salutogenesis. In addition, it demonstrates the potential of resource-oriented studies in this field of research.

I will present selected biographical courses as well as effects and conditions – both adversely and resilient. In this regard, the ambivalent role of the families is one of the discussed issues. The familial position of the interviewees and their experiences of demotion, stigmatisation, and loss were major drivers of the pathogenesis. On the other hand, families are as well resources of cultural and social capital (Bourdieu; Putnam) for civic engagement.

I will illustrate to what extent the social conditions in the GDR potentially could stabilise people – for example through opportunities of employment and engagement – and how the transformation after 1989 led to adverse and insecure experiences. However, at the same time, the installation of democratic structures provided alternative opportunities to treat adverse and stressful life experiences. In particular, different sectors of civic engagement provide opportunities for biographical work. Summarising, I will show the perspectives and limitations for recovering mental illness under the conditions of ongoing familial dynamics, available networks, other resources, and new problems of action.