Risk and trust in U.S. borderlands enforcement

Special report: State and illegal practices
By Josiah McC. Heyman

In a powerful passage, Foucault explores differential illegalities at the moment of punishment and their role in the social process. I seek to extend this key idea to the differentiation of detection and arrest versus non-detection and non-arrest. I do this by conceptualizing a profoundly unequal continuum, with some social actors viewed as “risks” and thus subject to continual attempts at detection (and thus facing the risk of arrest), and other social actors viewed as “trustworthy” and therefore mostly entirely excused from police examination (and thus largely removed from the chance of being arrested for something). The differentiation of trust and risk positions vis-à-vis the law matters significantly to quotidian experiences, subjectivities, social representations, and collective social relations. My empirical ground is various inspections checkpoints and inspectorial encounters in the heavily policed borderlands of the United States at and near its boundary with Mexico.


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