In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Airport and Airline Security

  • Introduction

Criminology Airport and Airline Security
Peter Adey
  • LAST REVIEWED: 19 September 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 19 December 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0146


The airport is a site where the sorting and effective differentiation of the (global) mobilities of people and things take place. It is a nexus in a node of a network or system of mobilities and circulations. These flows interlace through sovereign territorial boundaries that are now to be found not only at the edges of states, but also within them, even on the edges of cities. These mobilities challenge security in two main ways. First, the movement of populations threatens the integrity of that state to police its people: whom and what it lets in and out. While liberal governments seek to lubricate the mobility of their circulations so that they may profit from them, they must also scrutinize them for dangers and risks lest these mobilities expand to the point that they choke off growth or overwhelm the border. What’s more, the very mode of passenger travel has become a risky vector of its own. Since the rise of air piracy in the late 1960s, the airport and the passenger (and increasingly cargo) present their own targets in an environment of international terrorism. To combat these threats, today the aircraft and the airport are secured and policed in high-profile and very visible ways. Airports, then, have become fraught with the tensions of intense practices of monitoring, surveillance, and sorting, as well as increasing public scrutiny and contestation. This is because they are “pinch points” and thresholds of several horizons: between the land–territory border, the ground, and the sky and between population, government, and threat. Aviation security is also incredibly complex, operating according to an often contradictory layering of national and international jurisdictions, regulations, and legitimate public concerns.

General Overviews

It is important to note that there are few monograph-size overviews of airport and airline security, at least in terms of the more critical and analytical academic literature. This probably reflects the difficulty of sustaining this kind of research for the scale of a monograph. It might further illustrate the size of the problem. As such, most research on airport security has explored the issue through specific sites, moments, practices, techniques, and technologies. Elsewhere, it is by proxy, as airport security is told within a wider story of global regimes of mobility, or intensifications of surveillance, for example. Indeed, more often than not, airline security plays second fiddle to airport security, expressing a further difficulty in deciphering the organizational and spatial boundaries between these different spheres of security.

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