Sentiments of Bureaucracies: Affective Dynamics in the Digital Transformation of German Immigration Management

Individual project in the CRC 1171 “Affective Societies: Dynamics of social coexistence in mobile worlds”

Project duration: 2019-2023

Heads of project:

Dr. Larissa Vetters

Prof. Dr. Olaf Zenker

Staff members:

Dr. Timm Sureau

Thomas Götzelmann

Rebekka Walter

Louisa Hofmann

Libert Buchert

Nora Nolle

Project description

This four-year project, partially carried out under pandemic restrictions, traced whether and how bureaucratic sentiments (understood as both evaluative emotional repertoirs and regimes of meaning) change when digital technologies are introduced into the administrative processes of German immigration governance. Ethnographic observations of select digitalization initiatives of the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (Bundesamt für Migration und Flüchtlinge, henceforth BAMF) constituted the core of the research, with fieldwork methods being expanded and adapted to prolonged periods of remote and mobile work among BAMF staff as well as among researchers. Further exploratory and complemantary field research took place during digitalization events organized by public and private stakeholders, at administrative courts, and in the framework of policy forums and networks dedicated to the digital transformation of German public services.

Carried out in the framework of the Colloborative Research Centre (CRC; in German, Sonderforschungsbereich, SFB) Affective Societies at the Freie Universität Berlin, the project contributed to the CRC’s overall aim of exploring how societal transformations not only produce new affective dynamics, but can also be brought about by the institutionalization of affective regimes. Based at the Law and Anthropology Department of the Max Planck Institute for Social Anthropology and the Institute for Social and Cultural Anthropology at Martin Luther University Halle, the research team brought to this endeavour a particular perspective grounded in the interdisciplinary field of law and anthropology. The project laid the empirical and conceptual groundwork for establishing an interface between affect studies, digitalization research, and anthropological studies on law, state and bureaucracy. This will facilitate further ethnographic investigations into the emotional and affective dimensions of new modes of governance and their implications for negotiating citizenship rights and the politics of belonging under conditions of globalization.

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