Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Gary Wilder

Committee Members

Karen Strassler

Dagmar Herzog

Ursula Rao

Subject Categories

Social and Cultural Anthropology


Refugees, Migration, Europe, Biometrics, Borders, Bureaucracy


The dissertation is a critical ethnography of the biometric governance of asylum seekers and illegal migrants in the European Union, an integral apparatus for the policing of border-free Europe. Interrogating the paradox of how ‘undocumented migrants’ have been—and are—the most documented subjects in Europe today, the research explores how this documentation assumes the form of biometric technology and its relation to the postwar eradication of Europe’s internal frontiers. At the center of these processes and my research object is Eurodac: a pan-European apparatus for the biometric documentation and regulation of Europe’s paperless migrants and asylum seekers. By attending to both the biometric apparatus and to its lived experience by migrants on the move from the Middle East (mainly Syrian, Iraqis, and Yemenis), the dissertation explores how the illegal migrant body emerged as a site for postwar European self-constitution, and how Eurodac’s vision of turning migrant bodies into readable documents is transforming the historical experience of migration and the future of citizenship.

The research is a multi-sited ethnography of Eurodac, moving between Brussels (the EU capital), Izmir (migrant smuggling and counterfeit paper hub), the Greek island of Chios (a biometric registration ‘hotspot’) and Berlin. Rather than a comparative study, my multi-sited research deciphers the conceptual and spatial challenges in locating the contours of a biometric surveillance apparatus, consisting as it does of an assemblage of policy decisions, electronic databases, operational sites, offshore processing locations, a visual regulation regime, and encoded bodies on the move. The dissertation tackles rather than shuns this challenge, aiming to discern the tangible, traceable transnational connections in which these intertwined surveillance and governance systems are operated, negotiated, and subverted. Through an ethnographic account of the current state of migration securitization, the dissertation challenges conceptual frameworks, offering a new understanding of the realities of biometric governance, the content and boundaries of Europe, the politics of humanitarian intervention in the global north, and the experience and performance of migration at this historical juncture.

This work is embargoed and will be available for download on Saturday, September 30, 2023

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