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Attitudes matter : Perceptions towards welfare work with migrants in Swedish welfare organisations


  • Carolin Schütze

Summary, in English

This dissertation examines Swedish welfare workers’ attitudes towards migrants and migration, their perceptions of welfare work with migrants and organisational working conditions.
The dissertation is based on original survey data capturing attitudes and views of welfare workers in two Swedish welfare organisations. The thesis’ conceptual framework draws on three perspectives: street-level bureaucracy theory, racial attitude studies and ontological security theory. All three perspectives bring different dimensions to the understanding of welfare workers’ attitudes towards migrants.
The research has four interlinked focuses, which are presented in four empirical papers. The first focus is on (1) how individual and organisational factors are associated with welfare workers’ attitudes towards migrants, and how these attitudes are linked to perceptions of welfare work with migrants. (2) In order to get a better understanding of the role of individual attitudes in relation to migrants the study investigates how welfare workers’ colour-blind attitudes are associated with anti-immigration attitudes and perceptions towards welfare work with migrants. (3) Furthermore, in order to deepen the understanding of how organisational and individual factors intercept and influence welfare work with migrants the study explores in what way discretion plays an intervening role for the relation between workload, anti-immigration attitudes and perceptions towards work with migrants. (4) Lastly, the study focuses on expressions of uncertainties and insecurities caused by global transformations (e.g. migration) using the concept ontological security in order to explore how welfare workers express themselves about their work and about migration in general by studying open-ended survey responses and how we can understand these perceptions.
The findings indicate that welfare workers with more negative attitudes towards migrants also tend to perceive their work with migrants as more burdensome. Simultaneously, the results show that higher levels of colour-blindness are linked to a higher likelihood to report negative attitudes toward immigrants. However, at the same time higher levels of colour-blindness are linked to a lower likelihood to report difficulty in working with migrants. This suggests that colour-blind attitudes function as interactive social norms that welfare workers deploy to perform what the organisation and society wants to communicate. The findings also show that heavier perceived workload increase the likelihood to perceive work with migrants as difficult, and that perceived discretion mediates the relation between perceived workload and perceived difficulty in working with migrants, suggesting that it functions as a buffer for organisational demands. Finally, the results suggest that welfare workers use different identity strategies, namely, retreatism in the form of distancing oneself, essentialism in the form of resentment towards migrants, and engagement in the form of mutual dialogue. These strategies are used to handle uncertainties and overcome complexities not only as professionals in their work life, but also as private individuals.
This thesis contributes with incorporating individual and organisational factors when studying perceptions towards welfare work and migration. The thesis integrates racial attitude studies into understandings of organisational processes and links these processes to global structural transformations. Thereby the thesis contributes to a growing line of research that is shifting the focus from internal organisational processes solely to integrating the role of individual attitudes but also external transformation processes in order to understand how welfare work with migrants is shaped.

Publishing year





Lund Dissertations in Social Work



Document type



Lund University


  • Social Work


  • migration
  • attitudes towards migrants
  • racial attitudes
  • welfare work
  • welfare organisations




  • ISSN: 1650-3872
  • ISBN: 978-91-89604-62-9

Defence date

28 August 2019

Defence time


Defence place

School of Social Work auditorium, Allhelgona kyrkogata 8, Lund


  • Helena Blomberg-Kroll (Professor)