Neither opaque nor transparent: A transdisciplinary methodology to investigate datafication at the EU borders


In 2020, the European Union announced the award of the contract for the biometric part of the new database for border control, the Entry Exit System, to two companies: IDEMIA and Sopra Steria. Both companies had been previously involved in the development of databases for border and migration management. While there has been a growing amount of publicly available documents that show what kind of technologies are being implemented, for how much money, and by whom, there has been limited engagement with digital methods in this field. Moreover, critical border and security scholarship has largely focused on qualitative and ethnographic methods. Building on a data feminist approach, we propose a transdisciplinary methodology that goes beyond binaries of qualitative/quantitative and opacity/transparency, examines power asymmetries and makes the labour of coding visible. Empirically, we build and analyse a dataset of the contracts awarded by two European Union agencies key to its border management policies – the European Agency for Large-Scale Information Systems (eu-LISA) and the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex). We supplement the digital analysis and visualisation of networks of companies with close reading of tender documents. In so doing, we show how a transdisciplinary methodology can be a device for making datafication textquoteleftintelligibletextquoteright at the European Union borders.

Big Data & Society