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Policing the FrontierAn Ethnography of Two Worlds in Niger$
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Mirco Göpfert

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9781501747212

Published to Cornell Scholarship Online: September 2020

DOI: 10.7591/cornell/9781501747212.001.0001

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The Eye

The Eye

Surveillance and the Problem of “Seeing Things”

(p.61) Chapter 5 The Eye
Policing the Frontier

Mirco Göpfert

Cornell University Press

This chapter examines how the gendarmes' eye tries to constantly reach out into the unknown, and this reaching out ideally leads to the production of knowledge, facts, and truth. The gendarmes' eye, particularly as a device and metaphor for surveillance, is thus at the heart of the frontier as a project of reaching out, pushing forward, and moving beyond. The gendarmes in Godiya had to grapple with Niger itself, as it was still a very poor “registering machine” and knowledge apparatus. The chapter then sheds some light on what the daily exercise of state surveillance can mean in a context where the state seems to know very little about its citizens. In this context, surveillance in particular and the frontier-project in general does not so much appear like the calculated action conceived by a powerful state dispositive—a strategy—but rather as a tactical way of operating: the improvised, localized, often spontaneous and makeshift practices of “make do.” Indeed, the gendarmes often needed informants—who can be thought of as “knowledge brokers”—to locate or identify a person, to understand the context of a particular complaint and the disputants' relationship, and to know their families' previous history.

Keywords:   gendarmes, knowledge, surveillance, Godiya, Niger, state surveillance, informants

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