Tuesday, March 27, 5pm, Lotta Mayer: Paradoxical Processes: Unintended Consequences of Organizational Deviance in German Secret Services and the Extreme Right-Wing Terrorist Group NSU

Please join us for the first meeting of Spring Quarter of the Money, Markets and Governance workshop, on Tuesday, March 27th, at 5 – 6:30 PM, in classroom 401 in the Social Science Research Building.

This is a joint session co-hosted by PIPES (The Program on International Politics, Economics and Security). Please note, that our full Spring Schedule will be sent out next week, prior to the meeting.


 Lotta Mayer

PhD Graduate, Researcher, Max Weber Institute for Sociology, University of Heidelberg

Paradoxical Processes: Unintended Consequences of Organizational Deviance inGerman Secret Services and the Extreme Right-Wing Terrorist Group NSU


Discussant: Georg Rilinger
PhD Candidate, Sociology, University of Chicago

Abstract: The National Socialist Underground (NSU) was an extreme right-wing clandestine terrorist group active in Germany from 1996 to 2011, committing murder in ten cases, several bombings, and a series of bank robberies. It consisted of three core members who lived together in hiding since 1997. The NSU was detected only after its two male members killed themselves in the aftermath of a bank robbery in 2011, resulting in a political scandal following the post-hoc exposition of the group. Our research project focuses on one of the central issues raised in the political and public debate: the relationship between various German secret services and the NSU. While public discourse tends to either focus on the affair as a case of incompetence on the part of the intelligence agencies or to cultivate conspiracy theories, we propose a differentiated approach focusing on unintended, self-enforcing, and in part paradoxical processes: The interplay between initial failure of authorities and the actions of NSU’s members and supporters unintendedly facilitated the NSU’s genesis, continued existence, and its capacity to act as a terrorist group. In order to explain the secret service agencies’ actions, we combine the concept of ‘organizational deviance’ with a conflict-theoretical perspective, both re-formulated in symbolic interactionist terminology. We thereby develop an analytical perspective that enables reconstructing the systematic aspects of the secret service agencies’ failure without falling victim to ‘fictions of intentionality’ and thus offers an alternative to the predominant discourses centering on incompetence and conspiracy. More generally, we seek to broaden the theoretical understanding concerning the relationship between the genesis and continued existence of criminal organizations on the one hand and partly illegal actions of legal organizations, including the authorities, on the other.


Accessibility concerns or other issues should be addressed to the workshop coordinator: yanivr {at} uchicago {dot} edu.

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