1st Edition

Autonomy of Migration? Appropriating Mobility within Biometric Border Regimes

By Stephan Scheel Copyright 2019
    250 Pages 1 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

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    Examining how migrants appropriate mobility in the context of biometric border controls, this volume mobilises new analytics and empirics in the debates about the politics of migration and provides an analytically effective and politically significant tool for the study of contemporary migration.

    Drawing from the tension between the EU’s attempt to achieve watertight border controls by means of biometric technologies, and migrants’ persistence to move to and live in the EU, the volume pursues two interrelated objectives: first, it studies the encounters between migrants and the Visa Information System (VIS), one of the largest biometric databases in the world, from the perspective of mobility in order to investigate how migrants appropriate mobility via Schengen visa within and against this biometric border regime. Second, it addresses criticisms of autonomy of migration in order to develop it as a viable approach for border, migration and critical security studies. Hence, the book is driven by two interrelated research questions: what does the assertion of moments of autonomy of migration refer to in the context of border regimes that use biometrics to turn migrants’ bodies into a means of mobility control? And how do migrants appropriate mobility via Schengen visa within and against biometric border regimes?

    This book will be of great interest to scholars in border, migration and critical security studies, as well as researchers engaged in citizenship studies, surveillance studies, political theory, critical IR theory and international political sociology.


    1. Biometric Rebordering Revisited: Beyond the Control Bias and Policy Gaps

    2. Autonomy of Migration within Biometric Border Regimes?

    3. Rethinking the Autonomy of Migration: Rethinking Autonomy

    4. Deconstructing the Trickster Narrative: the Visa Regime as an Unpredictable Regime of Institutionalised Distrust

    5. At the Consulate: Appropriating Mobility within and against Biometric Border Regimes

    6. Encounters at the Airport: Embarrassing Performances of Sovereign Power

    7. Rendering Europe a Vast Borderzone: On the Irreducible Ambivalence of Migrants’ Practices of Appropriation

    Conclusion: Autonomy of Migration Reloaded


    Stephan Scheel is working as an assistant professor at the sociology department of the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany. He was previously a researcher on the project ‘ARITHMUS – How Data Make a People’ at Goldsmiths, University of London, UK. Stephan holds a PhD from the Department for Politics and International Studies at the Open University in Milton Keynes. His thesis has been awarded the Michael Nicholson Thesis Prize of the British International Studies Association (BISA) in 2015.

    "This book is central for all the readers who want to understand the practices of those who want to leave their place and cross borders to find a place where to live humanely. Inspired by an approach concentrating on the moments of autonomy of migration and by beginning the analysis with the point of view and regimes of justification of the persons often accused to be illegal, the author inverses the traditional trend to accept the point of view of the "authorities" as a truth. This account is an important critical work on the paradoxes of the Europe of Schengen and beyond." - Didier Bigo, King’s College London, UK.

    "Biometric technologies are usually studied from the angle of the refinement and further entrenchment of control. Taking borders as privileged sites of investigation, Stephan Scheels invites us to reverse the gaze and to ask first of all how mobility is appropriated by migrants within biometric border regimes. This simple theoretical move opens up new continents of research and allows the author to make substantial contributes to critical security, migration, and border studies. This is a timely and original book." – Sandro Mezzadra, University of Bologna, Italy.

    "What does it mean to recognise migrants as autonomous subjects when increasingly pervasive European biometric border technologies are constituting them as objects of control? Scheel's brilliant ethnographic studies illustrate how migrants appropriate and subvert these technologies. He compellingly shows how such contestation is transforming apparatuses that are meant to contain and deprive them.ʺ - Engin Isin, Queen Mary University of London, UK.

    "This is one of the best accounts of the autonomy of migration available. Scheel brings a brilliant critique to bear on existing approaches, informed by his rich ethnographic observations of biometric border controls. The relational account of autonomy that he develops as a result is essential reading for anyone interested in the contemporary terrain of border struggles." – Anne McNevin, New School, USA.

    "At stake in this book is the veritable embodiment of migrant subjectivity, autonomy, and resistance, as biometric securitization targets the migrant body as a decisive site — if not a conclusive one — for regulating identities in a world of accelerated and ever more complex formations of human mobility. Stephan Scheel’s research combines a sophisticated theoretical critique with extended participant observation among migrants and border patrol agents. Autonomy of Migration? Appropriating Mobility within Biometric Border Regimes explores vital and urgent concerns for migration and border studies, while also making critical interventions into the fields of international relations, comparative politics, and political theory." — Nicholas De Genova, University of Houston, USA.