Ethnic Drag

Performing Race, Nation, Sexuality in West Germany
Katrin Sieg
An exploration of the West German attempt to repress and refashion concepts of "race" after the Holocaust


The Holocaust is considered a singularly atrocious event in human history, and many people have studied its causes. Yet few questions have been asked about the ways in which West Germans have "forgotten," unlearned, or reconstructed the racial beliefs at the core of the Nazi state in order to build a democratic society. This study looks at ethnic drag as one particular kind of performance that reveals how postwar Germans lived, disavowed, and contested "Germanness" in its complex racial, national, and sexual dimensions.

Using engaging case studies, Ethnic Drag traces the classical and travestied traditions of Jewish impersonation from the eighteenth century onward to construct a pre-history of postwar ethnic drag. It examines how shortly after World War II mass culture and popular practices facilitated the repression and refashioning of Nazi racial precepts. During a time when American occupation authorities insisted on remembrance and redress for the Holocaust, the Wild West emerged as a displaced theater of the racial imagination, where the roles of victim, avenger, and perpetrator of genocide were reassigned.

Ethnic Drag is a critical and entertaining look at the phenomenon of cultural masquerade and how it reveals racial feeling, thought, and behavior in postwar German culture. Contributing to considerations of drag in postcolonial, feminist, and queer scholarships, Ethnic Drag brings an analysis of postwar discourses on race to German cultural studies.

Katrin Sieg is Associate Professor of German with the BMW Center for German and European Studies at Georgetown University. A recipient of the prestigious Humboldt Foundation Fellowship, her research interests include feminist and queer theory, theater and performance studies, and twentieth-century German culture. Sieg is also the author of Exiles, Eccentrics, Activists: Women in Contemporary German Theater.

Praise / Awards

  • "Replacing the older notion of impersonation, Sieg argues that drag can uncover how race intersects with national identity and gender and simultaneously articulates and represses German postwar traumas and conflicts in drag masquerades. By organizing her extraordinarily dense, lucid, and sophisticated study around this concept, Sieg challenges the distinction between high canonical art and crass mass entertainment. . . . Deftly merging Brecht's dramaturgy with feminist, postcolonial, and queer theories, Sieg creates a superb methodological framework demonstrating how ethnicity and performance (should) ultimately coalesce. This brilliant study is an outstanding contribution to German cultural studies."
    —M. Shafi, University of Delaware, Choice, April 2003
  • ". . . an enticing, superbly documented, and exceptionally well-written account of the phantasmatic self-representations and impersonations of ethnicity in late-twentieth-century Germany. . . . Embedding her analysis in feminist, queer, and critical race theory, Sieg shows how the German emulation and usurpation of ethnicities is linked not only to radical reification but also to performative attempts at transformation. Katrin Sieg, in short, has produced an exceptional historical ethnography of postwar German ethnicities in the making. . . . It ought to be read by all scholars interested in German Studies, whether in the humanities or social sciences. Graduate students, as well as upper division undergraduates should be encouraged to discuss this work in class."
    —Uli Linke, H-Net Reviews

  • "Katrin Sieg's detailed account of ethnic drag as an index of the ways in which West Germans have engaged with, disavowed, and contested race in the post-Nazi period not only makes for fascinating reading but also expands and redefines contemporary theoretical debates about masquerade and performativity."
    Theatre Journal
  • ". . . a rich and important scholarly work, clearing promising new territory for cultural historians and identity theorists."
    Theatre Research International
  • "Awarded two prizes for outstanding scholarship in theater studies, Ethnic Drag has also set new standards for critical rigor and medium-specific analysis of German culture since 1945. Erudite, ambitious, and compelling, this interdisciplinary study deftly draws on feminist theories of gender and masquerade, queer theories of sexuality and transvestitism, critical theories of race and minstrelsy, postcolonial theories of ambivalence and mimicry, and dramatic theories of mimesis and impersonation to illuminate the interplay of collective anxieties and representational paradigms in performance cultures high and low. In Katrin Sieg's capable hands 'ethnic drag' is a sophisticated tool for understanding specific material practices of performativity as well as pivotal ways in which German culture since 1945 has interpreted, negotiated, forestalled, or refashioned the meaning of twentieth-century history in the wake of war and genocide. Pioneering and seminal, Ethnic Drag is what I would call an indispensable book."
    —Leslie A. Adelson, Professor of German Studies, Cornell University

  • Named a Choice Outstanding Academic Title

  • Winner: Joe A. Callaway Award for Best Book in Drama or Theatre

  • Winner: 2003 Award for Outstanding Book from the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE)

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Copyright © 2002, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 296pp.
  • 2 drawings, 10 B&W photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Paper
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-03362-1

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  • $29.95 U.S.