An inquiry into the digitisation of border and migration management: performativity, contestation and heterogeneous engineering

Publikation: Beiträge in ZeitschriftenZeitschriftenaufsätzeForschungbegutachtet


This article is concerned with the digitisation of border security and migration management. Illustrated through an encounter between a migrant and the Visa Information System (VIS)–one of the largest migration-related biometric databases worldwide–the article’s first part outlines three implications of digitisation. We argue that the VIS assembles a set of previously unconnected state authorities into a group of end users who enact border security and migration management through the gathering, processing and sharing of data; facilitates the practice of traceability, understood as a rationality of mobility control; and has restrictive effects on migrants’ capacity to manoeuvre and resist control. Given these implications, the article’s second part introduces three analytical sensitivities that help to avoid some analytical traps when studying digitisation processes. These sensitivities take their cue from insights and concepts in science and technology studies (STS), specifically material semiotics/ANT approaches. They concern, firstly, the ways that data-based security practices perform the identities of the individuals that they target; secondly, the need to consider possible practices of subversion by migrants to avoid control-biased analyses; and finally, the challenge to study the design and development of border security technologies without falling into either technological or socio-political determinism.

ZeitschriftThird World Quarterly
Seiten (von - bis)123-140
Anzahl der Seiten18
PublikationsstatusErschienen - 02.01.2021
Extern publiziertJa

Bibliographische Notiz

Funding Information:
This study was funded by Università degli Studi di Trento. The authors would like to thank three anonymous reviewers for their engagement with our text and their constructive comments. We would also like to thank the editors of the special issue as well as the participants of the author’s workshop at the Centre for Global Cooperation Research of the University-Duisburg-Essen, where a first draft of this paper was discussed. Finally, we would like to extent our gratitude to Anna Casaglia and Huub Dijstelbloem for the comments they provided on an earlier draft which was presented during the SGRI conference at the University of Trento.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.