Accepted Paper:

Between fait accompli and failure: tracing the contested socio-technical emergence of the EU's Smart Borders Package  


Simon Sontowski (University of Zurich)

Paper short abstract:

This paper traces the contested socio-material emergence of the EU’s Smart Borders Package for biometric border control and shows how its political negotiation, technical development and practical implementation – far from depoliticising border struggles – has opened up new spaces of contestation.

Paper long abstract:

In early 2013, the European Commission proposed the creation of a Europe-wide database, which shall on the one hand biometrically register all non-EU citizens' entries to and exits from the Schengen territory and on the other hand accelerate border crossings of pre-vetted travellers. Commonly referred to as Smart Borders Package, this proposal indicates a remarkable shift in the way the EU's external borders are problematized. It partly recasts the border itself as an obstacle, but promises to reconcile security and speed by technologically upgrading it. However, in the last three years, both the proposal's political negotiations and its technical development have yielded profound controversies. In particular, technical devices and their very properties have become objects of political disputes, thus opening up new spaces of contestation and possibilities for politics and resistance.

Based on multi-sited ethnographic field work and drawing on questions raised by Foucauldian studies of governmentality and by actor-network theory, this paper traces the contested process of emergence and socio-material assembling of the European smart border. It gives a detailed insight into its on-going political negotiations, technical development and practical testing and shows how this process has fostered techno-political controversies, which nearly led to its failure. In doing so, it examines the socio-technical work of assembling and aligning heterogeneous networks of border control, the various actors involved, and the difficulties of making them function. Beyond that, it exemplifies why this development is constantly threatened to fail, but also, which effects smart borders would entail, once they were implemented.

Panel T045
New Collective Practices of Measurement, Monitoring and Evidence