Guessing games with target groups

Securing a livelihood by supporting refugees in a hostile environment


  • Lieke van der Veer Radboud University

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migrant advocacy, classification, bureaucracy, integration policies, grassroots responses


In the wake of mass-migrations of refugees seeking safety and stability in Europe, this contribution studies emerging grassroots organizations that support refugee status holders in Rotterdam, the Netherlands. The municipality expects these organizations to adhere to the European trend to incorporate immigrant integration priorities in interventions that apply to all residents. The article discusses the paradox of how bureaucratic classifications regarding preferred target groups cast certain grassroots responses as fringe-activities that are less legible bureaucratically. Based on a year of ethnographic fieldwork, this article shows how this lessened legibility translates into profound insecurities for grassroots organizers. The article discusses how these insecurities, in combination with the uncertainty grassroots organizers feel regarding their employability, motivate them to play guessing games and to give in to municipal preferences to boost their eligibility for funding. It argues that this process of giving in to municipal preferences should be understood as an attempt to render their endeavors legible, reduce precariousness, secure a livelihood, and turn affective labor into a life-sustaining practice. In so doing, this contribution evokes the story of a particular grassroots organizer—a woman of color with a forced migration background.




How to Cite

van der Veer, L. 2021. Guessing games with target groups: Securing a livelihood by supporting refugees in a hostile environment. Intersections. East European Journal of Society and Politics. 7, 2 (Jul. 2021), 32–48. DOI:



Grassroots responses to mass migration in Europe