Josefin Graef

The Dynamics of Narrating Public Violence: The National Socialist Underground and the (Re-) Negotiation of Germanness

Supervisors: Dr Sara Jones and Dr Isabelle Hertner

My research project looks at how public acts of violence are narrated and categorised across time, using the example of the right-wing extremist ‘National Socialist Underground’ (NSU) in Germany whose members committed ten murders, two bombings and fifteen bank robberies between 1998 and 2007 before they were identified in November 2011. Since then, the news media in particular have referred to these acts as ‘terrorism’, whereas before they had been classified as drug-related crime or attributed to the Turkish mafia (“Kebab Murders”).

Drawing mainly on Paul Ricoeur’s hermeneutical approach to narrative and work on collective memory, and employing narrative inquiry as a research methodology, my project develops a theoretical framework that can account for the dynamics of narrating public violence over time. I analyse the changing narratives created in connection with events now attributed to the NSU over a period of sixteen years (1998-2014) in selected national newspapers and news magazines in Germany. I am particularly interested in what role memories and expectations, which I grasp by the analytical term ‘Germanness’, play for the interpretation of public acts of violence. Understanding these temporal and spatial dynamics is important because the categorisation of public acts of violence is an expression of and further affirms certain social structures within a (national) society, and has an impact on the choice of methods of criminal investigation and political measures.


I hold a BA in European Studies from the University of Passau, Germany, and graduated with an MA from the University of Hamburg and an MSc from the University of Edinburgh, both in European Studies, in 2012. My MA thesis is entitled “Creating EU Memory Standards: On the Link between Turkey’s Denial of the Armenian Genocide and the Concept of Europeanness”.

I am the IGS/DAAD project scholarship holder and project assistant on the Institute’s major research project “The German Past and the Contemporary World: The Domestic and Foreign Politics of Memory” (2013-2015) and writing my PhD on public violence and German identity in context with the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

In the academic year 2013/14 I am also the Co-Chair (Events) of the Graduate Centre for Europe (GCfE), an interdisciplinary initiative for postgraduate students of Europe (


  • BA European Studies, University of Passau
  • MA European Studies, University of Hamburg
  • MSc European Studies, University of Edinburgh 

Research interests

  • National and European Identities 
  • Right-wing extremism in Germany and the European Union 
  • Historical and Collective Memory 
  • EU Enlargement and Cultural Policy
  • Discourse Theory and Political Communication

Conference Papers

‘Attack on Germany: (Re-) Negotiating Self-Images in Response to NSU Terrorism’, 21st International Conference of Europeanists ‘Resurrections’, Council of European Studies, Washington, D.C., 14th-16th March 2014

‘Collective Memory Revisited: How Useful is Halbwachs’ Approach to Memory for Understanding European National Memories of the Holocaust?’, DAAD Young Scholars School ‘The German Past and European Memory: Dictatorship and Democracy in the 21st Century’, Institute for German Studies, University of Birmingham, 24th-26th July 2013

‘Performing Memory Conflicts in the European Parliament: Turkey’s Denial of the Armenian Genocide and the Creation of EU Memory Standards’, Conference ‘Memory, Conflict and Space’, The Archbishop Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace Studies, Liverpool Hope University, 10th-12th July 2013

‘Re-approaching European Identity: A Conceptual Framework for Analysing Europeanness’, Young Scholars School “European Identity: Concepts - Evidence -Research Methods”, Friedrich-Schiller-University of Jena, 17th-23rd March 2013.