Software and the mundane management of air travel

Rob Kitchin, Martin Dodge


Over the past thirty years, the practices of everyday life have become increasingly infused with and mediated by software and captured in code. Software is increasingly embedded into objects and systems as a means to enhance and manage usage and to link together disparate and distanciated parts of an infrastructure, enabling new and refined processes. In some cases, such as air transportation, this embedding has become so pervasive and vital that if the software crashes one part of the system grinds to a halt, subsequently disrupting other aspects of air travel. In this article, we examine one part of this system, the profiling and screening of passengers, to argue that the use of software has engendered a new form of governmentality — mundane management — that is having a profound effect on the operation and regulation of air travel. The development of distributed information systems has enabled governments and air travel businesses to capture, cross–reference and regulate the ongoing status of individuals in ways that were previously difficult, if not impossible. By linking these capta together, a dense rhizomic assemblage of power/knowledge is being created; what is at best oligoptic (partial and selective) in nature is becoming more panoptic (all–seeing ). This is especially the case given the trend towards increased granularity (resolution) and uniqueness (unique identification based on biometrics) of capta, and the fact that capta stored are unlikely ever to be deleted. These systems are not without their problems, particularly with regard to civil liberties. However, new procedures and technologies have largely been greeted by the public with ambivalence or welcomed, rather than resisted.

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