"It doesn´t feel right - emotional regime and bureaucratic empathy in the Swedish Migration Board"
Department of Social Studies Karlstad University Karlstad, Sweden
This study explores the emotional regime and employee emotion work at one of the Swedish Migration Board's departments for the investigation of asylum requests. Do employees reflect on the power over life and death implied in the decisions they make? How are emotions used, managed and organized in response? To what extent do case officers make use of their discretionary powers as part of emotion management?
Between March 2008 and February 2009 I visited the department at four occasions, each time following a different case officer. All together the data consists of 12 semi-structured qualitative interviews; 8 observations of asylum request hearings; and extensive field notes from informal observations. Second-hand data (internal documents, reports, statistics, and newspaper articles) were also collected and analysed.
The emotional regime of the department revolves around the sacred symbol of the Alien's Act and government directives. The management is proud of reducing turnaround time and increasing flexibility to meet the unpredictable influx of requests. To case officers, safe-guarding the legal rights of the applicant in a fair and neutral investigation - regardless of the outcome - is a source of pride. They struggle to overcome perceived obstacles; e.g. the failure of legal assistants to deliver correct pleas; and the failure of applicants to deliver the truth. Discretionary power is used to "test" key cases (changing practice) and sometimes used in favour of female applicants. Feelings routinely help ordering and evaluating information. Uncertainty is transferred to the courts, trusting that all rejections will be tried there.
The organization of emotion in bureaucracy focuses procedure and thereby makes feelings of responsibility for the human consequences seem irrational.