Theses Doctoral

“Grammars of Repair”. Redress for German Colonialism in the Aftermath of the Shoah

Taylor, Howard

In May of 2021, in a move unprecedented in European history, the governments of Germany and Namibia announced the completion of their negotiations for funding to redress what they together have termed the "wounds" of the colonial past. The bilateral agreement had long been declared void by Namibians of diverse backgrounds, however, who protested that the way they have been treated pales in comparison to the kind of treatment that Jewish people of various communities have received from Germany since 1945.

My ethnographic research followed the diversity of discourse about German colonialism in two years leading up to this agreement in multiple locations; from hearings concerning legal demands for the return of Herero and Nama indigenous land, bones, and cattle in New York City, to political struggles around race and racism in Berlin, to the intransigent settler work of German Lutheran landowners in Namibia. I explore this ethnographic and historical material in a thesis that has three distinct sections.

In the first part, I look at the place of the idea of Germany in these ongoing struggles by turning to the German Namibian community and the networks that they operate in and through. I ask after the borders of Germany as an idea, as a territory, and as a political theology – and I look to what "German Namibia" can tell us about contemporary German politics more broadly – most specifically as a site to undertake a potential genealogy of German Protestant Liberalism and its various phantasms.

In the second part, I look to the history of Holocaust reparations and its relationship to the Herero and Nama case in the New York courtroom to understand how historically specific iterations of the figure of the suffering Jew have come to contour various grammars in which repair for anti-Black violence and native dispossession are fought for and responded to, especially when figured through the juridical language of reparations.

In the third part, I turn towards the contemporary German politics of acknowledgment, Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the process of coming to terms with the past. Rather than asking here after the lack of attention to colonial history on the part of the German state, I ask after how the state has actively tried to oppose colonial racism by integrating the history of colonialism into its memory politics. I look to the multiple paradoxes of this attempt that I argue ultimately leads to a reinscription of German white supremacy upon racialized bodies.

Overall, my research turns to the past and present of German settler colonialism to explore the politics of reparation on an international scale alongside the relationship between race, religion, and repair in a fractured Europe.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Scott, David A.
Abu El-Haj, Nadia L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
February 21, 2024