Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg

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Research Projects

Current research project (2020-present)

Thomas’ PhD project investigates affective and emotional dynamics in Germany's migration administration in relation to its ongoing digitalisation. Within the German administrative landscape, the administration of migration plays a decidedly pioneering role for the introduction of digital tools and processes. These new techniques of administration are not only aimed at applicants (e.g. automated dialect recognition), but also at internal administrative processes. Both at the Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) and the municipally located foreigners‘ registration offices, central software input masks play a growing role in the daily activities of the public servants. Paper files are increasingly replaced by electronic files, database queries to other authorities are triggered semi-automated by mouse click, and, in general, individual steps within administrative procedures are increasingly guided by the logic of software solutions developed partly in-house and partly by private companies.

Thomas’ study – mostly within the IT department of the BAMF – suggests that the process of digitalisation itself changes the self-image of bureaucracy. New digital tools as well as the development and infrastructural upkeep of these tools impact public servants’ emotion repertoires related to applicants, their own work, and the state in general. Thomas’ research project accompanies this digital transformation of migration management by tracing and documenting the affective dynamics of digitalisation in the interactions between software/hardware, public servants, and companies. The focus of his research is on the changing sentiments of bureaucracies, i.e. the affective-emotional attitudes of public servants towards new models of an administration that is in the process of digital transformation.

Completed research project

An Affective-Emotional Crisis of Legitimacy. Lawyers’ Sentiments of Justice in/of Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis (2017-2019)”

For his MA project, Thomas conducted 4,5 months (October 2017-March 2018) of fieldwork in Cameroon’s anglophone regions. He worked with anglophone common law lawyers protesting a francophone and code civile dominance in government and a marginalisation of anglophone minority rights (language and legal traditions as well as participation in government). The fieldwork addressed the research participants’ emotional-affective attitudes with regard to the “Anglophone Crisis” – a strike started by anglophone lawyers and teachers that began in 2016, spread throughout Cameroon’s anglophone regions’ civil societies, was met with state violence, and turned into a civil war with a multitude of separatist factions. Thomas was particularly interested in how the lawyers positioned themselves to achieve justice in a wide field of belonging, plurality of law systems, and the micropolitics of workers in the legal field. He further inquired into lawyers’ appraisals of the legitimacy of the government and state, exploring positions varying from the affirmation of the central government to an emphasis on constitutional reform and the re-instatement of federalism in Cameroon to outright secessionism of the anglophone regions. These different positions and their emotional groundings in personal and collective histories and sentiments of justice along with differing strategies of strike and litigation were the core aspects in his MA thesis that combined perspectives of political and legal anthropology with affect theory and emotion studies. The thesis was completed in December 2019.