Summary and Conclusion

This chapter has, in an exploratory fashion, sought to develop a more nuanced understanding of the relationship between the policing of mobility and crime. I have argued that by studying the way in which ordinary officials construct and deploy narratives of criminalized mobility we can better explain what happens when policy makers call upon their officials to simultaneously police immigration and criminal laws. In all of the cases I have discussed, narratives of criminal mobility serve as a way of simplifying complex enforcement problems. By profiling mobile people as perpetrators, presenting migrants as victims, and using human mobility to make intellectual property crimes tangible, officials create simple and replicable policing habits for dealing with deeply complex social realities. While prejudice and profiling constitute one important way in which officials simplify the difficult task of detecting potential perpetrators among diverse populations, I have argued that this is only part of the story. Mobility is commonly made the object of criminal suspicion in a variety of other ways and with a number of other indirect effects. In the human trafficking example, I showed that by encouraging teacher trainers to focus on stories of migrant victimhood, the IOM materials encouraged officials to shut off their attention to the perpetrators of trafficking. In the intellectual property example, I showed that by focusing on traders’ illegal occupation of inner-city spaces, police raids allowed officials to avoid the more complex problem of dealing with the production of illegal copies of music and film.

The reasons why mobility narratives become such evocative and ‘common-sense’ simplifications for ordinary officials is not self-evident, but is itself an important object of explanation. As I have shown in this discussion, developing a narrative of criminal mobility is a subtle and complex discursive exercise, requiring the exercise of an official’s imagination. The question then becomes why issues such as where an individual has come from, in what direction he or she is going, or how quickly and regularly he or she has moved take precedence over, or begin to displace, other lines of investigation such as an individual’s line of work or social networks, or other forms of surveillance and detection which do not focus on human bodies but take physical property, personal testimony, data registers, etc as their primary source of evidence. As the discussion above suggests, South African officials’ tendency to privilege mobility narratives over other ways of scripting a potential crime may be partly explained by their highly unique historical context: as inheritors of the apartheid tradition of policing separateness. However, I have also suggested that global policing agenda may provide a new context in which such highly localized practices might ‘thrive’. The Convention on Transnational Organized Crime presents human mobility in particular, but cross-border mobility in general, as a potential vector of criminal activity, networks, and ambition. The impact of the Convention may hinge on the degree to which the various institutional formations and initiatives which have been developed under its broad rubric feed into and strengthen the tendency of law-enforcement officials to take questions about an individual’s movements as the first step in any investigation of a potential crime.

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