Universiteit Leiden

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Research project

Emotional Labour in the Borderlands: A new perspective on ethno-racial profiling

What impact does ethnic profiling and accusations of ethnic profiling have on organizations and the border police officers working at the operational level, and what structural factors on the societal and organizational level contribute to the process of ethnic profiling? Over a period of three years (November 2023 – November 2026), this innovative transdisciplinary research project will focus on these, and other, issues by approaching border policing as 'emotional' work and using a combination of both scientific and artistic research methods.

2023 - 2026
Maartje van der Woude
NWO SSH Medium Grant (project number 406.22.RB.007)
Image created for this project by Cushla Donaldson 2024; inspired by the infographics of sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois and his team

Ethnic profiling is a common theme in contemporary discourse and has consequences for individuals and communities, who experience stigmatization, discrimination, and racism. Ethnic profiling by law enforcement officials also causes societal harm which can contribute to declining trust in the government and its agencies. Whereas discussions on ethnic profiling in the Netherlands initially focused on the actions of the Dutch National Police, the 2023 ruling against the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee regarding their activities in the intra-Schengen borderlands has shown that ethnic profiling is also happening in the context of border policing activities. While there is quite some research looking into the organizational factors and dynamics in regular police organizations that contribute to problematic practices like ethnic profiling, this research is much more limited for border police organizations. Furthermore, research on what being part of an organization that is seen to be involved in ethnic profiling does to people working in that organization is lacking. As a result, we might be missing important insights and opportunities on how to really change racialized decision-making practices from within.

This research will therefore approach this question in a holistic way that pays attention to the multi-layered and interrelated complexities of European, national, organizational, and individual dynamics, interests, and beliefs as they are present in the intra-Schengen borderlands.

A perspective through 'emotions'
Border policing will be approached as a form of 'emotional' labor, where border officers will be analyzed through the lens of 'emotions'. This will provide deeper insights into individual, organizational, and social norms and the tensions experienced between these. In addition, this project will uncover the deep stories of border police officers which entail general norms of culture, organizational display rules, and inner feelings and emotions. These factors can shape someone in their person and activities, which influences the decision-making process. These insights contribute to a more complete picture of the problems with ethnic profiling and can serve as starting points for interventions and improvements for the organization.

Scientific and artistic research
To understand the geopolitical, social, and legal complexity of the field within the organization and those working within the organization have to operate, various methods of research are being used. Previously collected qualitative data in the Netherlands (2013-2015 and 2021) and Poland (2018-2019) will be analyzed through the lens of emotional labor and will serve as a point of entry for the artistic research. Besides reusing data, new data will be collected as well. Through in-depth interviews, document analysis, focus group sessions, and artistic interventions, a deeper insight into border police work with underlying decisions and emotions of border officials will be generated.

The research’s output will be diverse because of the tensions and interactions between society, organization, and individuals that play a central role in this project. In addition to scientific articles, output focused on the organization and output focused will contribute to the aim of this research. Examples are policy briefs and training and interventions, possibly linked to Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning. Furthermore, by creating a podcast series, infographics, and an online exhibition, the project really attempts to reach a wider audience.

For questions about this project, please contact the principal investigator, Professor Maartje van der Woude via m.a.h.vanderwoude@law.leidenuniv.nl or send a message to borderlands@law.leidenuniv.nl.

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