Biometric statehood, transnational solutionism and security devices: The performative dimensions of the IOM’s MIDAS

publishedDate01 August 2021
Date01 August 2021
Theoretical Criminology
2021, Vol. 25(3) 454 –473
© The Author(s) 2021
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/13624806211031245
Biometric statehood,
transnational solutionism
and security devices: The
performative dimensions
of the IOM’s MIDAS
Samuel Singler
University of Oxford, UK
This article contributes to border criminology and transnational criminal justice research
into the role of transnational actors in shaping practices of global justice, punishment
and control, as well as to the criminological analysis of penal technologies. I examine the
performative effects of the Migration Information and Data Analysis System (MIDAS)
developed by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and I argue that
these effects are multidimensional. For beneficiary states, the deployment of MIDAS
constitutes a performance of sovereign territorial power, affirming membership in the
international society of (biometrically capable) states. For the IOM, the development
and deployment of MIDAS and carrying out training sessions operate as pedagogical
interventions legitimizing the organization as a neutral, technical expert of migration
management. Finally, MIDAS itself performatively acts upon its targets, constituting
‘the migrant’ as a governable, potentially risky subject and constituting ‘migration’ as a
problem amenable to depoliticized techno-solutionist interventions.
Biometrics, border criminology, IOM, performativity, solutionism, territorial
Corresponding author:
Samuel Singler, DPhil Candidate in Criminology, Centre for Criminology, University of Oxford, St Cross
Road, Oxford, OX1 3UL, UK.
1031245TCR0010.1177/13624806211031245Theoretical CriminologySingler
Singler 455
Border criminologists have highlighted the increasing importance of understanding
immigration law and migration control as key factors of contemporary practices of pun-
ishment, control and social exclusion (Bosworth et al., 2018). In an age of globalization,
states—particularly in the Global North—increasingly deploy the criminal justice sys-
tem to control migration and to discipline migrants, while also utilizing the legal frame-
works and practices of immigration control in a penal manner (Bosworth, 2008;
Hernández, 2018; Stumpf, 2006). This merging of criminal justice and migration control
is now regularly referred to as ‘crimmigration control’, emerging in the context of glo-
balization (Bowling and Westenra, 2018). Yet ‘globalization’ cannot be understood sim-
ply as a set of external material pressures to which states have responded with the
development of crimmigration control practices. In the words of Katja Franko (Franko
Aas, 2012a: 236): ‘through the emerging forms of globalism, criminal justice is plugging
into trans-border circuits of circulation of people, forms of knowledge and social and
political action’. Meanwhile, scholars of Transnational Criminal Justice (TCJ) have
shown how the global scale of contemporary forms of punishment and control are not
only distinct from earlier statist forms of penal practice, but also challenge the field of
criminology to re-evaluate its earlier commitments to state-centric theorizing by asking
‘how does international criminal justice challenge conventional ideas of sovereignty, the
penal state and of penal power in a globalizing context?’ (Lohne, 2020: 146).
Against this backdrop, in this article I critically analyse an influential yet underexam-
ined transnational actor in the field of global migration management, the International
Organization for Migration (IOM). Border criminologists have conducted illuminating
research into the role of non-state actors such as private corporations and non-govern-
mental organizations in shaping crimmigration control practices (Bhatia and Canning,
2020; Infantino, 2016; Martin, 2017). Nonetheless, the IOM has thus far received only
limited attention, usually by scholars of migration studies and international political
sociology (Bartels, 2018; Dini, 2018; Fine, 2018; Frowd, 2020; Pécoud, 2018). If indeed
migration control is a key dimension of contemporary penal power which operates at the
scale of ‘the global’, then a critical examination of transnational actors of migration con-
trol is relevant to the contemporary projects of border criminology and TCJ.
The IOM is one of the most influential and multidimensional transnational actors
operating in the field of global migration management (Frowd, 2018). An intergovern-
mental organization with 173 Member States, the IOM employs over 15,000 staff mem-
bers across 590 offices in over 100 countries globally (IOM, 2021b). The IOM is a key
intermediary between wealthier donor states in the Global North and beneficiary states
in the Global South, providing border management trainings, humanitarian support and
technical and material assistance ‘to support governments to build capacity for the gov-
ernance of migration’ (IOM, 2021b: 1). In recent years, a key component of the IOM’s
work in the Global South has been the provision of its Migration Information and Data
Analysis System (MIDAS) free of charge to beneficiary states. MIDAS is a biometric
border management information system (BMIS) that gathers and stores biographical and
biometric data, travel document information, entry/exit data, visa data and vehicle/flight/
vessel data (IOM, 2018b). Operational in over 20 countries in the Global South, mainly

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