Police, Politics, Polis – Dealing with refugees in the city

Project: Research

Project participants


The research project focuses on the local dealings and interactions with refugees in larger cities. It investigates the interrelationships between three aspects: the role of the local police as local representatives of the state monopoly on the use of force ("police"), the relevance of urban strategies in dealing with refugee issues ("politics") and the importance of urban social actors, networks and discourses ("polis"). The focus is on the extent to which the police are involved in local practices and how their actions are shaped by the local context. In this way, the research project picks up on tendencies towards a local turn in migration policy research. If it can be shown that even police action as strictly law-bound, in direct state responsibility and embodying the state monopoly on the use of force is subject to such a shaping by the urban context, then this is a strong argument to pursue the local turn of migration policy research further. Conceptually, the project assumes, first, that cities, through their historically developed practices, self-understandings and discourses, suggest particular ways of practice to actors. They offer spaces for cooperation and conflict articulation, for focusing and interpreting needs and problems, and for constructing commonalities and differences. In addition to official urban politics, actors of local civil society are of particular relevance. Second, because of their specific logic of social integration, cities are also designed to link open borders and practices of dealing with heterogeneity. They differ from states in this respect, but are in complementary relationships to them. Third, we assume that the mediation logic underlying police action in urban space is essentially shaped by a normative field of tension between the poles of "security" and "human dignity". How security can be guaranteed in harmony with human dignity is thus negotiated and concretized in urban space. The planned project comprises three modules, which will be defined as "Mapping", "Embedding" and "Understanding" and will be processed using qualitative-interpretative methods of data collection and interpretation. In six cities in the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Hesse and Lower Saxony, police perceptions of the challenges and possibilities for action as well as the security strategies pursued are to be analysed. In a second step, these police perspectives and orientations for action will be embedded in the local contexts by asking to what extent they are related to institutionalised practices, public patterns of interpretation and networks of actors on the ground. The third module will then investigate the extent to which specific urban-police ways of dealing with refugees can be spoken of and where their fault lines and potentials can lie.