The Micro-Politics of Border Control: Internal Struggles at Canadian Customs
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This dissertation explores the remaking of Canadian customs from the point of view of border officers tasked with processing trucks and commodities. Historically employed for tax collection, border authorities have gradually been incorporated into security provision and trade facilitation. This has entailed the pluralization of public and private actors who have a stake in border regulation as well as the design of a series of organizational reforms, new customs programs, border technologies and intelligence-led policing strategies. As a result, there has been a disembedding of borderwork and a displacement of decision-making away from ports of entry. Frontline security professionals negotiate these changes in ways that have consequences for our understanding of border priorities. In response to the consequences of this new division of labour, including their loss of clout in the security field, customs officers attempt to maintain their hold on border responsibilities by relying on their discretionary powers. Meanwhile, they emphasize the potentially dangerous aspects of their work over the more administrative by deploying an enforcement narrative––one that has recently found its concrete application in their union's successful campaign to obtain arming for its members. While an analysis of the "pistolization" of borderwork indicates the progressive adoption of a policing sensibility by border officers, an examination of their restructured professional socialization reveals the emergence of distinct generational approaches to borderwork. Hiring and training play a central part in shaping "old ways" and "new ways" of doing borderwork. Anchored in divergent temporalities of border control, these internal categorizations of skills and attitudes point to the new registers of distinction mobilized by officers as they negotiate a transitioning security field.