Open Access Journal

ISSN: 2183-2803

Article | Open Access

EU Border Officials and Critical Complicity: The Politics of Location and Ethnographic Knowledge as Additions

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Abstract:  Based on research conducted among EU border enforcement officials, this article embarks on a discussion about complicity and critical analysis within border and migration studies. The study of borders and migration in the context of the EU is a highly politicized issue, and several scholars have pointed out that critical research easily comes to serve into a “knowledge loop” (Hess, 2010), or play part in the proliferation of a “migration business” (Andersson, 2014). In this article, I will argue that in order to not reproduce the vocabulary or object-making of that which we study, we need to study processes of scale-making (Tsing, 2000) and emphasise the multiplicity of borders (Andersen & Sandberg, 2012). In the article, I therefore present three strategies for critical analysis: First, I suggest critically assessing the locations of fieldwork, and the ways in which these either mirror or distort dominant narratives about the borders of Europe. Secondly, I probe into the differences and similarities between the interlocutors’ and researchers’ objects of inquiry. Finally, I discuss the purpose of ‘being there’, in the field, in relation to ethnographic knowledge production. I ask whether we might leave behind the idea of ethnography as evidence or revelations, and rather focus on ethnography as additions. In conclusion, I argue that instead of critical distance, we as scholars should nurture the capacity of critical complicity.

Keywords:  border and migration studies; border officials; critical analysis; ethnographic knowledge; EU border enforcement



© Marlene Paulin Kristensen. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license (, which permits any use, distribution, and reproduction of the work without further permission provided the original author(s) and source are credited.