Migration enforcement is accompanied by emotions expressed by various actors – including the broader public, politicians and those targeted by practices such as deportation and detention – but also those of bureaucrats who implement policies. Emotions are addressed towards or expressed against a multitude of groups, such as asylum seekers or migrants with precarious legal status, as well as police officers and administrative and non-governmental staff.
Studying emotions directed at different groups uncovers, on the one hand, the intricate and complex network of actors working within the field of migration enforcement, both new and old. On the other hand, it presents the researcher with a density of relations that, as I argue in my Identities article, ‘Tracing the circularity of emotions in Swiss migration enforcement: organizational dissonances, emotional contradictions and frictions’, can be analyzed through a focus on emotions, thus advancing our understanding of statecraft and organizational construction.
Previous work has highlighted the role and effects of emotions in migration control and emotional labour by bureaucrats in the field of control and enforcement, which underlines relational interactions with migrants. My article expands on this and argues that emotions also play a role a priori and behind the scenes of migrant-bureaucrat encounters. More specifically, emotions become established within and between institutions through interactions, allowing a certain professional habitus to be built. Quickly, emotions such as mistrust and irritation seep through an entire system, contribute towards organizational practices, and finally are expressed towards migrants during personal encounters. Since those bureaucrats working in such institutions often retain ample decision-making power over the lives of those marginalized, we must consider their emotions and the way they uncover positionings, and how they legitimate their work and decisions taken in such a contested field.
My Identities article examines Swiss migration, social services and legal counselling offices through semi-structured interviews and observation. It provides an insight into the often diverging goals of institutions and organizations that only partly wish to be associated with migration policies and their implementation. It is at the intersection of these three offices’ everyday work that one can understand how inter-organizational and intra-organizational emotional discourses function as legitimizers of daily practices and decisions, and build a core ingredient to a professional ethos that is contrasted against other professions.
I argue that emotions between such institutions reflect the struggle over migration enforcement, becoming an indirect positioning towards those who are questioned in their belonging. Furthermore, these a priori emotions or discourses between professional actors affect migrant-bureaucrat encounters, as well as the respective institutions which are shaped and influenced by each other. This shows that even without the individual migrant being physically present, ideas and perceptions are created about them, creating extended bordering practices.
Importantly, the legitimation of such non-belonging becomes assessed during positionings against other institutions and actors depicted as doing a ‘bad’ job, e.g. when being too lenient or when decisions by other agencies are seen as too harsh. Emotions thus organize difference. Relational emotional construction works as a legitimizer of those institutions’ own work and as a tool of differentiation from other institutions and their work ethos. As such, emotions are not simply irrational or exceptional parts of an otherwise sorted and rational structure, but inherent to it.
Embedded in the Swiss context is a fear of what I call ‘overforeignization’ – the fear of cultural change due to migration and becoming estranged – that has characterized past and recent migration discourses, and in which the identities of migrants are moulded into racialized depictions of otherness. Consequently, the multidimensionality of such relational emotions allows us to understand how it shapes the professional standing of actors in the field, and the overall politics of inequality addressing migrants and driven by fear, unease and contempt.
Blog post by Lisa Marie Borrelli, HES-SO Valais/Wallis, Sierre, Switzerland
Read the Identities article:
Borrelli, Lisa Marie. (2022). Tracing the circularity of emotions in Swiss migration enforcement: organizational dissonances, emotional contradictions and frictions. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2022.2127668 OPEN ACCESS
Read further in Identities:
‘I’m not entitled to be married in Germany? Am I German or am I not?’ Narratives and discursive strategies of citizen sponsors in the German spousal migration context
The politics of migration research: research focus and the public identities of migration researchers OPEN ACCESS
Cosmologies and migration: on worldviews and their influence on mobility and immobility