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Boundary practices at incident sites : Making distinctions between emergency personnel and the public

Linda Kvarnlöf (Department of Social Sciences, Mid Sweden University, Östersund, Sweden)
Roine Johansson (Department of Social Sciences, Mid Sweden University, Östersund, Sweden)

International Journal of Emergency Services

ISSN: 2047-0894

Article publication date: 4 March 2014




Incident sites can be described as the joint work site of the emergency services, where one of their challenges is to interact with the public. The purpose of this paper is to study how this interaction is structured by the emergency personnel's jurisdictional claims.


This paper rests upon qualitative method and in-depth interviews. In total, 28 people have been interviewed, out of which 13 are emergency personnel and 15 are unaffiliated volunteers. The interview material has been analysed qualitatively and thematically by the authors.


The findings show that the interaction between emergency personnel and unaffiliated volunteers can be described in terms of three different boundary practices: cordoning off, division of labour and conversation, varying in degrees of inclusion and exclusion. The result shows that the emergency personnel's relationship to volunteers is ambivalent, as they are both seen as an uncertain element at the incident site in need of control and as a valuable source of information.


While most other studies have been focusing on the interaction between emergency organizations, the authors have investigated the interaction between emergency organizations and a group previously unstudied: unaffiliated volunteers. While sociologists in the field of boundary work normally describe boundary practices in terms of negotiation, sympathizing with the concept of negotiated order, the results point to the fact that boundaries are not necessarily a subject for negotiation.



This work was financially supported by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency, which is gratefully acknowledged. The authors would like to acknowledge their colleagues at the Risk and Crisis Research Center and the Department of Social Sciences at the Mid Sweden University for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.


Kvarnlöf, L. and Johansson, R. (2014), "Boundary practices at incident sites : Making distinctions between emergency personnel and the public", International Journal of Emergency Services, Vol. 3 No. 1, pp. 65-76.



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