From 1965 to 1990, a subject was taught at the Law School of the Ministry for State Security in Potsdam that was kept under strict secrecy: “Operative Psychology“. This research project, financed by the Fund for the Promotion of Scientific Research, is dedicated for the first time to the scientific-historical roots, the professional development and the psychological consequences of psychological teaching and practice in the secret service of the GDR.

Even more than thirty years after the collapse of the GDR, many questions regarding the sources and practical effectiveness of operational psychological knowledge are still unanswered and are being systematically investigated in this project on the basis of publication and archive research as well as interviews with contemporaries. In addition to the archived documents of the MfS and the archives of the Psychological Institutes of the GDR in Leipzig, Dresden, Jena and Berlin, this project integrates the perspective of those people who became the target of the “operative measures” of the State Security, who were affected by techniques of “decomposition” and recruitment attempts by the MfS. Within the framework of the project, biographical group and individual interviews will be conducted in order to bring up processes of persecution, oppression and disempowerment, but also of resistance and solidarity with others affected against overpowerment by state organs.

The integration of scientific-historical and biographical research promises not only to complete the hitherto very incomplete picture of Operative Psychology, but also to put it in perspective with the vivid and contradictory experiences of former political persecutees.

Project team

Project lead
Ass.-Prof. Dr. Dr. Martin Wieser, martin.wieser@sfu-berlin.de

Project members
Prof. Dr. David Becker
Helena Hotopp, MSc.
Caroline Jacobi, MA.
Emilia Mittag, MSc.

Method

Archive and publication research as well as interviews with contemporary witnesses

Question(s) and hypotheses

  • What were the sources of the operational psychological knowledge of the Chair of Operational Psychology at the Potsdam Law School?

  • How did the transfer of people and knowledge from the universities to the intelligence service take place, and what developments can be identified over the 25 years of the chair’s existence?

  • What connections between operational psychology and intelligence practice can be demonstrated on the basis of archived materials from the Ministry for State Security?

  • How are the “operative” measures of the Ministry for State Security remembered by those affected, how were they reacted to the repressive measures, what counter-strategies and forms of solidarity did those persecuted develop?

  • How can the experiences of political repression be classified in terms of life history, which strategies for dealing with traumatising experiences can be reconstructed from the perspective of those affected?

Funding body

Fonds zur Förderung der wissenschaftlichen Forschung / Fund for the Promotion of Scientific Research; project number: P 33103

Project duration

July 2020 – June 2023

Publications

Maercker, A., Wieser, M., Wolfradt, U., Frindte, W., Gieseke, J., Guski-Leinwand, S., Richter, H., & Schmiedebach, H. (2022). Instrumentalisierung der Psychologie in der DDR? Eine wissenschaftshistorische, gesellschaftspolitische und fachethische Einordnung. Psychologische Rundschau, 73(2), 120-129. doi: 10.1026/0033-3042/a000589 (IF: 1.714)

Wieser, M. (2021). IM-Arbeit und das Problem der „Verbrüderung“: Überlegungen zum Verhältnis von Norm und Praxis der Operativen Psychologie. In A. Maercker, & J. Gieseke (Hrsg.), Psychologie als Instrument der SED-Diktatur. Theorien – Praktiken – Akteure – Opfer (S. 127-143). Bern: Hogrefe.

Wieser, M. (2020). “Talk to each other—but how?” Operative Psychology and IM-Work as “Micro-Totalitarian Practice”. In L. Schlicht, C. Seemann & C. Kassung (Eds.), Mind reading as a cultural practice (pp. 223-246). Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Wieser, M. (2020). Über das ‚Messer des Chirurgen‘ und ‚unangefochtene Inseln der Auslesearbeit‘: Skizze einer Genealogie der psychologischen Moral. In V. Balz & L. Malich (Hrsg.), Psychologie und Kritik. Formen der Psychologisierung nach 1945 (S. 141-161). Wiesbaden: Springer.

Michels, M. & Wieser, M. (2018). From Hohenschönhausen to Guantanamo Bay: Psychology’s role in the secret services of the GDR and the United States. Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, 54(1), 43-61.

If you are interested in the research project, please contact martin.wieser@sfu-berlin.de