Cite as: Dijstelbloem, H. Van Reekum, R. and W. Schinkel, 2017, “Surveillance at sea: The transactional politics of border control in the Aegean”. Security Dialogue 48(3): 224-240.
The relationship between vision and action is a key element of both practices and conceptualizations of border surveillance in Europe. This article engages with what we call the ‘operative vision’ of surveillance at sea, specifically as performed by the border control apparatus in the Aegean. We analyse the political consequences of this operative vision by elaborating on three examples of fieldwork conducted in the Aegean and on the islands of Chios and Lesbos. One of the main aims is to bring the figure of the migrant back into the study of border technologies. By combining insights from science and technology studies with border, mobility and security studies, the article distinguishes between processes of intervention, mobilization and realization and emphasizes the role of migrants in their encounter with surveillance operations. Two claims are brought forward. First, engaging with recent scholarly work on the visual politics of border surveillance, we circumscribe an ongoing ‘transactional politics’. Second, the dynamic interplay between vision and action brings about a situation of ‘recalcitrance’, in which mobile objects and subjects of various kinds are drawn into securitized relations, for instance in encounters between coast guard boats and migrant boats at sea. Without reducing migrants to epiphenomena of those relations, this recalcitrance typifies the objects of surveillance as both relatable as well as resistant, particularly in the tensions between border control and search and rescue.