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Mobile identities, technology and the socio-spatial relations of air travel

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The remarkable growth in the application of information and communications technologies indicates a great shift toward a globally integrated society. The urban metropolises are turning into intersections of transit and migration of goods, capital, services, cultures, knowledge and especially people. Moreover the flow of bodies, information and money is changing the rules of what defines national territory, space and identity. Social realities with specific qualities are appearing, implying a new spatial correlation between the local and the global. International airports and within emerging extraterritorial zones have become an important threshold controlling the flow of people in a free market economy. The airport border mutates into an abstract space permeating the physical territory of the airport and beyond. This abstract border space, within which mobile bodies operate, is created by a bureaucratic system of inclusion and exclusion particular to transition states. Transit zones at airports emerge because of a complex set of factors: border crossing as well as increasingly stringent security and safety regulations. The innumerable thresholds within these transit zones are points of congestion governed and increasingly supported by technological systems of identification. Within the transnation state, the movement of bodies is the constant subject of streaming and proceduralization. Increasingly, the conventional system of control based on face-to-face interaction between the controlling and the controlled is being replaced by the algorithmic precision of database logic. The paradigm of pattern matching ensures precise verification of the uniqueness of the body, in turn offering new potentials for permeability and flux. These different orders of legal and economic categorization create manifold sub-territories accessible to select groups of travellers. Nowadays, the airport is a transnation state spatialized through a new order of architecture, a manifestation of technology of abstract procedures of transition, inclusion and exclusion, adopting emergent patterns of socio-spatial mobility in a globalized network.
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Keywords: biometrics; cross-border circulation; deterritorialization; society and technology; socio-spatial mobilities; surveillance

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Architect, Zurich.

Publication date: 28 May 2008

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