Josefin Graef

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

Supervisors: Dr Sara Jones and Dr Isabelle Hertner

My research looks at the right-wing extremist "National Socialist Underground" (NSU) in Germany to investigate the social dynamics behind processes of (re-) narrating public acts of violence across time. The NSU is suspected to have committed ten murders, two bombings and fifteen bank robberies between December 1998 and November 2011 before they were identified by the police. Since then, the news media in particular have referred to these acts as 'terrorism', whereas before they had been classified as drug-related crime, attributed to the Turkish mafia ("Kebab Murders") or interpreted as the doing of a lone perpetrator out of hate for Turks based on his/her "personal experiences". I develop my research project by asking why these events were narrated so differently over time.

I draw on Paul Ricoeur's textual hermeneutics and work on collective memory, (critical) terrorism studies, criminology and narrative theory, and employ news media narrative analysis as a method. I analyse the changing stories created in connection with the events now attributed to the NSU over a period of thirteen years (2000-2012) in selected national newspapers and news magazines in Germany and identify the underlying narrative resources, and develop a theoretical framework that can account for the process of "re-narration" that we can observe in this case.

Based on an approach to the news media that sees them as a forum for the development, exchange and contestation of collective narratives, I argue that the stories of the acts of violence committed by the NSU are tantamount to the (re-) negotiation of different dimensions of Germanness. These dimensions refer to complex discourses of "othering", German approaches to extremism and terrorism, and the perpetually incomplete process of Vergangenheitsbewältigung. 


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 was 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 "Worldviews. The German Past and the Contemporary World: The Domestic and Foreign Politics of Memory" (2013-2015) and writing my PhD on criminal violence and Germanness in context of the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

In the academic year 2013/14 I also held the position of 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

  • Concepts of National and European Identity
  • EU Enlargement Policy and EU-Turkey Relations
  • Collective Memory Studies
  • (Political) Violence and Terrorism
  • 20th Century German History
  • Narratives Theory

Papers given

‘How Political is Right-wing Extremist Violence? On the Re-Interpretation of Terrorism in Germany after the NSU’, Research Workshop, DAAD Project ‘Reading Violent Politics: Transnational and Interdisciplinary Approaches to Political Extremism in Germany since 1968, University of Cambridge, 27th June 2015

‘Narrating Intra-societal Violence in Germany: Textual Responses to the National Socialist Underground and the Notion of Terrorism’, Berlin Program Summer Workshop ‘Violence, Oppression, and Civil Disobedience: From the Cold War Past to the Neoliberal Present’, Free University Berlin, 18th-19th June 2015

‘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. 

Teaching responsibilities

Professional Memberships

  • University Association for Contemporary European Studies (UACES)
  • German Studies Association (GSA)
  • Political Studies Association (PSA), German Politics Specialist Group
  • International Association for the Study of German Politics (IASGP)