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    Security by Design: Counterterrorism at the Airport

    Maguire, Mark and Westbrook, David A. (2020) Security by Design: Counterterrorism at the Airport. Anthropology Now, 12 (3). pp. 122-135. ISSN 1942-8200

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    In 2019, more than 4 billion passengers travelled by air, many through international airports. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has restricted global travel, but aerial modernity will return. Although those with wealth and status may glide past special gates, perhaps even through a separate building, the great majority of people will run a gauntlet of insulting rules, imperious stratification and intrusive surveillance. The hope is that there is reason behind the maddening regulations. And one may occasionally catch a glimpse of subtler designs: plainclothes officials appear and disappear; armed patrols switch direction according to earpiece commands. Airports thus struggle to reconcile the modern goals of freedom as mobility and security from physical violence. Perhaps this contradiction explains the strangely bifurcated literature on airports, with celebratory books positioned on the coffee table and critical texts in the scholarly library.1 Many in the critical social sciences openly admit that the airport is hard to study, a place of contradictions and dizzying complexity that resists traditional situated analysis. One is often left with abstractions such as “the State” and metaphors such as “theatre.”2 While hardly easy, a more empirical approach is possible. Since 2015, our work has drawn on paraethnographic research with counterparts in the world of counterterrorism.3 Our focus has been on specific terror attacks and the responses of key agencies and actors—security bureaucracies, elite special forces, managers, experts and designers. We reconstructed attacks in Belfast, Glasgow, London, Paris and Nairobi, attacks on airports and symbolic spaces but also attacks on the “unsuspecting public.” The resulting 2020 book, getting through Security: Counterterrorism, Bureaucracy and a Sense of the Modern, develops an image of contemporary counterterrorism as secretive and dangerous but also fractured, limited and haunted by failure. Here we look closely at one particular challenge in the world of airport counterterrorism, that of securing the airport’s “landside” zone. We describe this challenge through the eyes of key European agencies and actors; we acknowledge their desire for handy solutions, such as security by design, but also their willingness to do better. Instead of a portrait of coherence and excessive power, we show security to be a dangerous scene where responsibility meets uncertainty. It Could Be You

    Item Type: Article
    Additional Information: Cite as: Mark Maguire & David A. Westbrook (2020) Security by Design: Counterterrorism at the Airport, Anthropology Now, 12:3, 122-135, DOI: 10.1080/19428200.2020.1884480
    Keywords: Landside; Security by design; Airport Para-ethnographically
    Academic Unit: Faculty of Social Sciences > Anthropology
    Faculty of Social Sciences > Applied Social Studies
    Faculty of Social Sciences > International Development
    Item ID: 16661
    Identification Number:
    Depositing User: Mark Maguire
    Date Deposited: 03 Nov 2022 09:19
    Journal or Publication Title: Anthropology Now
    Publisher: Taylor & Francis online
    Refereed: Yes
    Use Licence: This item is available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial Share Alike Licence (CC BY-NC-SA). Details of this licence are available here

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