Knowledge of practice: Border security fairs in Europe and North America

In my recently published article on Security Dialogue, I focus on how professionals working in the border security industry ‘know’ border security practices. I investigate how border security professionals shape and circulate knowledge of border security practices at their main events – fairs and expos. In the article the reader is brought to four border security fairs across Europe and North America, one of which is the largest border security fair in the industry, Eagle Eye Exposition’s Annual Border Security Expo.

The first fair I attended in Budapest, at the World Border Security Congress, introduced me to a number of state-of-the-art technologies of border security and surveillance, such as sensors, scanners, and detectors, radars, biometric devices, drones, and even fence-mounted devices, among many others. I learned that these devices are materializations of particular forms of knowledge that is used in practice for social control and surveillance. There were also mostly men at the fairs, where I concluded that gender norms structure knowledge of border security practice.

At the fairs we sat through many conference events, including a number of presentations and discussions. It is primarily through these presentations that knowledge is disseminating and circulated, and often I found this knowledge was scarce or shared behind closed doors. So not all knowledge about border security is easily accessed. A number of these presentations used representations of future threats, provoking a palpable unease in the audiences. These images of a threatening future were used to promote certain solutions to security problems. These solutions were often technological, and the presentations were used to facilitate the selling of a product.

I also encountered a number of contradictions at play at the fairs, which raised some important questions about how we respond ethically and politically to knowledge about border security practices. By scrutinizing these fairs we can lay the groundwork for alternative knowledges and alternative practices which can allow us to respond to the deadly effects of border security.

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