The many lives of border automation: Turbulence, co-ordination and care

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Automated borders promise instantaneous, objective and accurate decisions that efficiently filter the growing mass of mobile people and goods into safe and dangerous categories. We critically interrogate that promise by looking closely at how UK and European border agents reconfigure automated borders through their sense-making activities and everyday working practices. We are not interested in rehearsing a pro- vs. anti-automation debate, but instead illustrate how both positions reproduce a powerful anthropocentrism that effaces the entanglements and co-ordinations between humans and non-humans in border spaces. Drawing from fieldwork with customs officers, immigration officers and airport managers at a UK and a European airport, we illustrate how border agents navigate a turbulent ‘cycle’ of automation that continually overturns assumed hierarchies between humans and technology. The co-ordinated practices engendered by institutional culture, material infrastructures, drug loos and sniffer dogs cannot be captured by a reductive account of automated borders as simply confirming or denying a predetermined, data-driven in/out decision.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)682-706
Number of pages25
JournalSocial Studies of Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 05 Sept 2019


  • borders
  • automation
  • entanglement
  • co-ordination
  • airports


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