Between suspicion, nicknames, and trust—renegotiating ethnographic access with Swedish border police

Borrelli, Lisa Marie (Institute of Social Work, HES-SO Valais-Wallis)

Purpose – This article contributes the following: First, it argues along previous works that rites of passage include continuous testing, which needs to be passed in order to gain a certain level of acceptance within the research field. Here besides the emotional effort, researchers have to position themselves and are confronted with questions of trust. Second, it is argued that the collected and analysed data on the rites of passage enable us to make sense of street-level bureaucrats’ work and functioning of state institutions, especially in a police context. Reflections on research negotiations drew the author’s attention to how mistrust towards the “other”, here defined as migrant other, prevails the migration regime. This mistrust is later transferred onto the researcher, whose stay is deemed questionable and eventually intrusive. Design/methodology/approach – The collected data include semi-structured interviews, as well as several months of participant observation with street-level officers and superordinate staff, deepening previous discussions on research access and entrance. It further allows understanding street-level narratives, especially when it comes to the culture of suspicion embedded in police work, connecting the experienced tests with the everyday knowledge of police officers and case workers. Findings – The analysis of rites of passage enable us to make sense of street-level bureaucrats’ work, especially in a police context, since we find a specific way of suspicion directed towards the researcher. It is based on a general mistrust towards the “other”, here defined as migrant other, whose stay is deemed illegal and thus intruding. In this context, the positionality of the researcher becomes crucial and needs strategical planning. Research limitations/implications – Accessing and being able to enter the “field” is of crucial relevance to researchers, interested in studying, e.g. sense-making and decision-making of the respective interlocutors. Yet, ethnographic accounts often disclose only partially, which hurdles, limiting or contesting their aspirations to conduct fieldwork, were encountered. Originality/value – The personal role of researchers, their background and emotions are often neglected when describing ethnographic research. Struggles and what these can say about the studied field are thus left behind, although they contribute to a richer understanding of the functioning of the chosen fields. This work will examine how passing the test and going through rituals of “becoming a member” can tell us more about the functioning of a government agency, here a Swedish border police unit.

Article Type:
Travail social
Travail social
Institut Travail Social
Travail social
Published in:
Journal of Organizational Ethnography
Numeration (vol. no.):
2020, Vol. 9 No. 2, pp. 143-157
Appears in Collection:

Note: The status of this file is: restricted

 Record created 2020-09-01, last modified 2020-10-27

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