Talking about borders: three key terms

Borders are maintained and reinforced by the penalties which they entail, and the consequent fear they inspire in our personal and collective imaginations. Sometimes these penalties and fears are appropriate and help to maintain barriers which protect us from harm. At other times, these penalties and fears are disproportionate and are ideologically motivated. When talking about borders, it’s important to be aware of some key terms and ideas. In this article we introduce and define the ideas of security theatre, securatization, and privatisation which are big topics in ongoing discussions about borders and migration.

Security theatre is the process through which organisations promote things that give the appearance of protection without producing measurable outcomes. This might involve disproportionately arming border officials by giving them automatic weapons when it is unlikely that they will have any violent interactions. Some people argue that a lot of the safety checks in airports are a form a security theatre, confiscating your nail scissors is silly when you could buy other dangerous items like glass bottles in the duty-free area just beyond the security stop. Security theatre is potentially, and ironically, a danger because it means that instead of spending money on things that keep us safe we have instead paid for processes which have no measurable benefit.

Securitisation refers to how the state frames issues as threats to our safety. An example of this might be xenophobic politicians suggesting that women who wear veils are a threat to security. These politicians are using the language of safety to hide their prejudice. Another example is governments discussing terrorism as a massive threat to the public, when something like heart-disease, lung cancer, or domestic violence is far more likely to result in someone’s death – governments can then justify disproportionate spending on military budgets, or passing laws which restrict our civil liberties.

Privatisation is the process of transferring a public service to a privately run industry. Maintaining borders, and security in general, is a profitable industry. Large companies exist to profit from managing and reinforcing borders. It is important to understand that these groups have an interest in promoting an agenda which increases government spending on security. You may notice employees of these private security firms acting as though they are equivalent to police officer or government official when they are most like not. When you are going through a border, look at who is profiting from running that border.

This article is part of a series which will try to introduce and explain important ideas about how to talk about and understand borders of all kinds. Being able to name and illustrate these issues is a vital step towards deconstructing and challenging them.

By Simon Fern

Image: Nerthus/pixbay

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