Divide and Monitor: Risk Spatiality and Surveillance Practices at Paris-Nord Railway Station

Issue: Station and Urbanity

English

How do we maintain users’ security without hindering their circulation? This is clearly a challenge for railway station managers, operating in open and permeable spaces – unlike airports. Surveillance studies have often conceptualized surveillance as a politically and socially encompassing phenomenon. This conception is highly informed by Foucault’s works and lacks more empirical analysis. By taking into account risk spatiality, this article studies surveillance as socially and spatially embedded work practices. It takes the railway station as a laboratory of governmentality, building on an ethnographic survey inside the SNCF’s internal security unit to show how its tasks are the result of a trade-off between the logics of the railway system and an objective of security. It also reveals how, at Paris Nord station, users are differentiated – and not really sorted – according to the type of surveillance they are subjected to.
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