Risky Borders: Gender and Race in EU Border Security

March, 2021 to June, 2024
Austrian Science Fund (FWF)

Marking the start of CEU’s engagement with the FWF, the “Risky Borders” project is a study on EU external border security operations. The project focuses on the role of risk analysis and its implications for gendered and racialized insecurities. To that end, it will examine Joint Operations of the European Border and Coast Guard Agency (Frontex) to understand the relationship between security knowledges and practices, and the production of insecurities for marginalized migrants.

“When we look at the Frontex risk analysis reports, certain understandings are visible, for example of women and children as particularly vulnerable, while on the other hand we have very masculinized images of those suggested to be ‘economic migrants’ taking advantage of the European welfare system, or the profit-seeking smuggler who is also considered as a non-European Other,” explains Stachowitsch. She emphasizes how such understandings of victims, villains and protectors are culturally laden with gendered and racialized stereotypes. In describing the project’s inquiries, Stachowitsch further asks, ”How do gender and race as meaning-making systems matter in how we make migration intelligible and ultimately practice border security and management? And how does an important institution like Frontex convey its sense of risk, threat and insecurity in a process that implicates gender and race?”

Stachowitsch is the Director of the Austrian Institute of International Affairs, which is also a project partner for “Risky Borders”. In terms of fieldwork, the researchers, including Stachowitsch’s post-doctoral collaborator Julia Sachseder, will initially examine the narratives produced by Frontex through their reports on risks at the borders, threats to security and management challenges. In addition to looking at these documents, the team will do interview-based research to get closer to how to the subjects engaging in the analysis view the issues around migration. Visual production such as film and photography used by Frontex for social media and public relations will also serve as a source, since visual culture plays an important role in the perception of security. 

Stachowitsch, who has a long history of FWF-funded projects, also notes how CEU represents the ideal environment for this project given its profile as internationally acclaimed institution and specializations in international relations, security studies, and gender studies. The FWF has been instrumental to Stachowitsch’s development of feminist approaches to security and international relations, having supported her projects related to private military and security companies and gender integration. “I'm excited to be taking this journey together with CEU and the esteemed colleagues that are very experienced in many of these issues. I think we will have great conversations and I'm excited to see where we go from there,” she comments.

CEU Associate Professor of International Relations, Xymena Kurowska also looks forward to the joint work: “I am personally very excited to welcome this project to CEU and also to the International Relations Department. It strengthens and diversifies our expertise in security, and critical border security in particular.” Kurowska adds that “’Risky Borders’ builds upon such projects to address pressing current issues in security studies regarding how the EU is constituting its own identity related to border security and how it is imagining its relationship to its neighborhood.”

Kurowska, who previously hosted Stachowitsch and Sachseder in her doctoral seminar on security theory, found that their presentation stimulated much discussion and value for CEU’s early career scholars. “The project  brings in a wealth of empirical research of highest quality that one can rarely afford to undertake without the generous funding that FWF provides,” she notes.