Skip to content

Methodological seminar: Observations in policing

Where: Utrecht University, Janskerkhof 3, room 0.21

When: 16 June 2023, 9.15 – 13.00 (including free lunch)

On June 16th 2023 we will kick off our NIG research colloquium on ‘Street-level bureaucracy of the 21st century’. Over the past decade, there has been a wave of scholars with a renewed interest in what happens at the frontline of bureaucracies and why. This is evident in the sheer number of (inter)national scholars who work on and publish about frontline topics. These scholars, however, are scattered across departments and various subdisciplines of public administration. We bring together junior and senior researchers who work on core themes in street-level bureaucracy, and learn from each other by creating a space for sharing, discussing, generating, and reflecting on new insights and methods.

Our first event is a methodological seminar that covers doing observations. Focusing on the field of policing, an important area in which street-level bureaucrats interact with citizens, two (inter)national speakers will share their expertise and experiences approaching such observations in the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Both speakers conduct observations in a very different way, which offers opportunities to discuss the value of observations in the field of street-level bureaucracy. After each contribution, a street-level bureaucracy scholar will provide a commentary on the implications of the talk for doing observational research in street-level bureaucracies beyond the police. This will be followed by a panel debate about the role of observational methods in street-level bureaucracy research. We conclude the seminar with a network lunch (free of charge), that allows all participants to have informal conversations and get to know each other better. This method workshop is explicitly meant for both qualitative and quantitative scholars since we may not share the same method, but we do share a fascination for understanding what happens at the frontlines.

If you want to attend, please register by filling out our registration form. Please do so before June 12, so that we can arrange lunch.


  • 9.15 – 9.30: walk in with coffee and tea
  • 9.30 – 10.15: contribution by Luuk Slooter, Utrecht University, followed by a commentary of Vivian Visser, Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • 10.15-10.30: coffee break
  • 10.30 – 11.15: contribution by Donatella Van Biervliet, KU Leuven, followed by a commentary of Isa Betram, Utrecht University
  • 11.15 – 12.00: panel debate
  • 12.00 – 13.00: lunch

More information about the speakers and their contributions

Luuk Slooter, Assistant-professor in Conflict Studies, Utrecht University

“Ethnographic tensions: Studying the police and youngsters in disadvantaged neighbourhoods in France and the Netherlands”

In this talk I will draw on my ethnographic research in various disadvantaged neighbourhoods in France and the Netherlands. I will discuss some of the advantages and limitations of studying the troubled relationship between police and young neighbourhood inhabitants through an observational approach. In doing so, I will reflect on positionality, illustrate how the ethnographer can easily become ‘the observed’ (rather than the observer) and explain why ‘access obstacles’ are not only a burden but also of great value to the research project. 

Luuk Slooter is Assistant Professor in Conflict Studies (History of International Relations section at the History Department, Utrecht University). He has an academic background in Social Psychology and Conflict Studies & Human Rights. He recently published ‘The Making of the Banlieue: An Ethnography of Space, Identity and Violence’ (2019, Palgrave Macmillan) and ‘Geweld’ (2021, Athenaeum – with prof dr. Jolle Demmers). He is currently writing a book on his ethnographic research on polarization/escalation processes in three disadvantaged neighbourhoods in the Netherlands.

Donatella Van Biervliet, PhD Student in Criminology, KU Leuven

‘Rebooting protest policing? Understanding technology-informed protest management practices by command post operators’

The use of internet sources enables protesters to mobilise quickly, confronting the police with challenges of public order policing. Partly in response, the police have adopted new technologies to try and ‘reboot’ their protest policing. In this seminar, I will explore how observations in the command post helps us understand how command post operators implement ‘sense-making’, ‘decision-making’, ‘meaning-making’, ‘ending and accountability’ and ‘learning’, and what role technologies play in how command posts operators manage protests. Simultaneously, I will reflect on interim experiences and possible challenges with contacting police executives and observing fast-paced environments with various sources of information.

Donatella Van Biervliet has a background in Criminology (MA, 2020, KU Leuven). In 2021, she completed the Master’s programme in Criminal Justice Policy at the London School of Economics (receiving the Titmuss Prize for Overall Performance and the joint Titmuss Best Dissertation Prize). In September 2021, she started working as a PhD fellow at the Leuven Institute of Criminology (KU Leuven), researching a project concerning protest policing, funded by the Fonds Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek – Vlaanderen (FWO) since 2022.