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Police, politics, polis. New research project on refugees in cities

2020-09-07 In her current research project, Sybille Münch, Professor of Theory of Public Policy, examines the role the police play in the location-specific negotiation of flight-related diversity in large cities: In what way does police action assume a particular logic in urban space? How is it embedded in an urban policy and civil society context?

The three-year project by Sybille Münch is funded by the German Research Foundation. In addition to the Centre for the Study of Democracy (ZDEMO), Prof. Georgios Terizakis from the Hessian University for Police and Administration (HfPV) in Wiesbaden and Prof. Michael Haus from the University of Heidelberg are involved. The collection of empirical data will begin on 1 January 2021.

The public and political approach to the issue of flight is often determined by a security discourse. Thus, the police play a central, albeit often overlooked, role in dealing with ambivalent situations and perceptions of insecurity in the tension between security and human rights. Münch's unique approach is to examine the extent to which the police are involved in local practices and are shaped by the urban environment. The research project aims to analyse the way in which police action towards refugees takes on a particular logic in urban space and is embedded in urban strategies ("politics"), and civil society practices and discourses ("polis"). It thus contributes to the role of the police in the location-specific negotiation of flight-related diversity of urban societies, as well as to research on the significance of flight and migration for urban governance. "Conceptually, the project is based on the assumption that cities, through their historically generated practices, self-understandings and discourses, suggest certain ways of action orientation," explains Münch. "We assume that police actors also possess considerable scope for action, despite their status as the executing authority of state laws”. Thus, the police develop specific public relations strategies, can participate in networks and committees, and can raise awareness of their topics and perspectives in places like schools. 

In the course of the project, police perspectives of both challenges and scope for action as well as the security strategies pursued, will be developed in six cities (Karlsruhe, Mannheim, Kassel, Darmstadt, Braunschweig, Osnabrück) in the federal states of Baden-Württemberg, Hessen and Lower Saxony. In a second step, these police perspectives and action orientations will be embedded in local contexts. Finally, it will be determined to what extent it is possible to speak of specific urban police modes of dealing with refugees, and where the fractures, conflicts and potentials of these may lie. It is the practices of everyday police work in the context of flight that are the focus of the project.