The social dynamics, governance and organizational networks in Crisis and Disaster situations

My research addresses the problem of social and organizational crisis and problems of dis-organization. Crisis – like man-made and natural disasters and incidents but also ‘planned’ disruptions such as urban mega-events – upset society, challenge our critical infrastructures, and make taken-for-granted societal patterns visible. They influence and shake all sorts of organizations, change the relationships between people and their socio-material environments, and have profound consequences for organizational work routines, communication patterns and information sharing/collecting practices. At the same time organizations are supposed to ‘fight’ the crisis, be(come) prepared for the unknown, and form collations with other agencies and local communities. The question then is how the crisis situations affect the social and organizational identities of individuals, the work(space) cultures, the actions of (first response) organizations, and the interactions between organizations and society.

I use two empirical windows to study the socio-organizational dynamics of safety, security and surveillance:

1 Organizing Safety and Security:
a study of the organization and networks of first response organizations including the police, fire brigades, first aid teams at the one hand and the municipalities, (non)governmental agencies, safetyregions, and civilians at the other hand. It includes an analysis of (information and communication) technologies in-use, netcentric work practices, emerging communication networks, the working routines on the floor, command and control systems, and social media websites in-use in crisis situations. This research is embedded in the project Amsterdam Research on Emergency Administration (AREA) of which I am the project leader.

Key Publications:

Wolbers, J.J. and F.K. Boersma (2013). The Common Operational Picture As Collective Sensemaking, Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 21(4): 186-199.

Boersma, F.K., P. Wagenaar and J. Wolbers (2012). Negotiating the ‘Trading Zone’. Creating a Shared Information Infrastructure in the Dutch Public Safety Sector. Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 9(2): Article 6.

Boersma, F.K., P. Groenewegen, P. Wagenaar (2012). The information management of co-located Emergency Response Rooms in the Netherlands. In: Rahman, H. (ed.). Cases on Adoption, Diffusion and Evaluation of Global E-Governance Systems: Impact at the Grass Roots, Hershey USA: IGI Publishing: 107-116.

2 Organizing Surveillance:
a study of the dynamics of the surveillance society in its historical and organizational contexts. In my research I addresses the mutual shaping between technology and surveillance societies. Seeing surveillance as the systematic and enduring collection of personal data, I pay attention to the processes of user practices, information sharing and surveillance within organizational contexts and social networking sites. In particular, I research surveillance in the context of crisis management such as in CCTV control rooms and data collection activities by crisis and first response organizations. Part of this research is embedded in the European COST Action ISO807 Living in Surveillance Societies (LiSS).

Key Publications:

Boersma, F.K., R. van Brakel, C. Fonio and F.P. Wagenaar (eds.) (2014). Histories of State Surveillance in Europe and Beyond. London: Routledge.

Boersma, F.K. (2013). Liminal Surveillance. An ethnographic control room study during a local event, Surveillance and Society, 11(1/2): 106-120.

Wagenaar, F.P. and F.K. Boersma (2012). Zooming in on ‘Heterotopia’: CCTV-operator Practices at Schiphol Airport, Information Polity, 17: 7-20.

Fuchs, C., F.K. Boersma, A. Albrechtslund and M. Sandoval (eds.) (2011). Internet and Surveillance. London: Routledge.

Wagenaar, P. and F.K. Boersma (2008). Soft sister and the rationalization of the world. The driving forces behind increased surveillance, Administrative Theory & Practice, 30(2): 184-206.


My research is based on triangulation of data and methods with an emphasis on qualitative, reflexive methods, such as life histories and historical, ethnographic and network analyses. I use also secondary sources, such as written records in archives and literature. Interviews with key persons and participant observation are carried out to result in case studies. The case studies will present the informants’ point of view (life world perspective) while contributing to theoretical debates in organizational studies and crisis management. I work intensively together with PhD- and Master-students and with practitioners of crisis management organizations.

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