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Migration policy in practice: identity conflicts and discretionary decisions at the front lines

Glyniadaki, Aikaterini (2019) Migration policy in practice: identity conflicts and discretionary decisions at the front lines. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Identification Number: 10.21953/lse.00004350


The importance of bureaucratic discretion has long been at the focus of public administration scholars of street-level bureaucracy. This thesis explores the mechanisms through which front-line actors make decisions under conditions of high uncertainty. It does so by examining what determines the discretionary behaviour of front-line actors in Athens and Berlin, during the 2015-2017 period of the so called ‘European Migration Crisis’. Using an extensive number (149) of qualitative interviews with individuals working at the front lines of migration management (legal professionals, caseworkers, care-workers, administrative employees), it identifies some of their patterns and mechanisms of decision-making. By drawing on insights from social psychology and the existing literature on street-level bureaucracy, this thesis advances the argument that the identities of front-line actors (be they role, social or person-related) play a critical role in shaping their discretionary decisions. In a field as socially and politically contested as that of migration management, these actors often encounter unprecedented challenges, for which there are no clear guidelines or solutions. These challenges then translate into identity conflicts, as the actors often respond based on their self-understandings in a given context. These self-understandings are also influenced by the communities of practice within which the actors operate, as well as by the structural conditions surrounding these communities (economic capacity, welfare state, policy framework, etc.). This research contributes to the field of street-level bureaucracy in two ways. First, it makes a case for paying close attention to those at the front lines of service delivery, including not only public servants but also private contractors and members of the civil society, whether formally organised or spontaneously mobilised. To capture this diverse range of actors, it introduces the term ‘front-liners’. Second, it emphasises the significant role of front-liners’ multiple identities, while also providing an overview of the several levels of analysis at once. By doing so, and by providing also a cross-city comparison, it draws conclusions that allow for greater generalisability.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2019 Aikaterini Glyniadaki
Library of Congress subject classification: J Political Science > JN Political institutions (Europe)
J Political Science > JV Colonies and colonization. Emigration and immigration. International migration
Sets: Departments > European Institute
Supervisor: Lodge, Martin

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