The concept of Stimmung: From indifference to xenophobia in Germany’s refugee crisis

John Borneman, Parvis Ghassem-Fachandi


This article deals with the German concept of Stimmung, which does not allow a translation into the English notion of “affective mood,” but rather is simultaneously an internal and external state, subjective (involving the “I”) and objective (involving attunement [einstimmen] to others), enveloping both content and form. To understand the essential imbrication of individual and collective moods summoned by the term, we examine three empirical cases of Stimmungswechsel, or “mood shifts”—from indifference to ambivalence, to xenophilia and xenophobia—as they shaped the September 2016 German regional electoral campaigns. Following Sally Falk Moore, we focus on the “diagnostic events” which triggered these shifts, observed in fieldwork encounters with Germans concerning migrants and refugees who entered Germany in 2015. How did the perception and experience of “the refugee” become internal to the “mood shifts”? How is Stimmung linked to relations to refugees as psychic attachments that either echo an originary collective experience of losing home or promise submission to an experience of self-transformation?


Stimmung, mood, attunement, Germany, elections, indifference, ambivalence, xenophilia, xenophobia, incorporation

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.14318/hau7.3.006