Historical Social Research

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Axel Salheiser, Socialist and Post-Socialist Functional Elites in East Germany [Abstract]

This paper provides a brief overview of elite change and continuity in East Germany as a post-socialist society. To do so, at first, some peculiarities of the former cadre system and elites in Socialist East Germany, i.e. the late German Democratic Republic, are addressed with regard to social structure development and the arrangement of generations. Selected empirical evidence is based on cross-sectoral, longitudinal and cohort analyses and the inspection of prosopographic elite data compiled until the end of the 1980s which deconstruct the myth of a levelled egalitarian Socialist society. In the second part of the paper, elite change and continuity after the political change of 1989/90 is discussed in the context of the transformation of institutions. Inspired by Bourdieu’s analytic paradigm, one central thesis on the career survivals, take-offs, and breakdowns of East German elites is the continued validity and efficacy of social and cultural capital obtained before the fall of the Wall, most of all formal qualification. Dimensions of vertical social inequality under Socialist rule, such as gender and class background, remain to be decisive until today.