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Migration controls at the external EU borders have become a large field of political and financial investment in recent years – indeed, an ‘industry’ of sorts – yet conflicts between states and border agencies still mar attempts at cooperation. This article takes a close look at one way in which officials try to overcome such conflicts: through technology. In West Africa, the secure ‘Seahorse’ network hardwires border cooperation into a satellite system connecting African and European forces. In Spain’s North African enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, advanced border fencing has joined up actors around a supposedly impenetrable divide. And on the EU level, the ‘European external border surveillance system’, or Eurosur, papers over power struggles between agencies and states through ‘decentralized’ information-sharing – even as the system’s physical features (nodes, coordination centres, interfaces) deepen competition between them. The article shows how such technologies, rather than ‘halting migration’, have above all acted as catalysts for new social relations among disparate sectors, creating areas for collaboration and competition, compliance and conflict. With these dynamics in mind, the conclusion sketches an ‘ecological’ perspective on the materialities of border control – infrastructure, interfaces, vehicles – while calling for more research on their contradictory and often counterproductive consequences.

More information Original publication



Journal article

Publication Date





22 - 39


Actor-network theory, border control, illegality, irregular migration, materiality