The Transparent Traveler

The Performance and Culture of Airport Security

The Transparent Traveler

Book Pages: 240 Illustrations: 37 illustrations Published: September 2015

Author: Rachel Hall

Cultural Studies > Surveillance Studies, Media Studies, Theater and Performance

At the airport we line up, remove our shoes, empty our pockets, and hold still for three seconds in the body scanner. Deemed safe, we put ourselves back together and are free to buy the beverage we were prohibited from taking through security. In The Transparent Traveler Rachel Hall explains how the familiar routines of airport security choreograph passenger behavior to create submissive and docile travelers. The cultural performance of contemporary security practices mobilizes what Hall calls the "aesthetics of transparency." To appear transparent, a passenger must perform innocence and display a willingness to open their body to routine inspection and analysis. Those who cannot—whether because of race, immigration and citizenship status, disability, age, or religion—are deemed opaque, presumed to be a threat, and subject to search and detention. Analyzing everything from airport architecture, photography, and computer-generated imagery to full-body scanners and TSA behavior detection techniques, Hall theorizes the transparent traveler as the embodiment of a cultural ideal of submission to surveillance. 


"Rachel Hall describes a state of emergency that has probably been normal in the rest of the world since the inception of mass air travel, and to non-Americans, it has a whiff of naivety. Nevertheless, this is an excellent book. As Hall observes, the technological and cultural advances in the area of security have been so great and so rapid in recent years that they constitute a major part of our contemporary lives. Her argument centres on notions of transparency, from its aesthetics in a broadly architectural sense, to transparency in terms of biopolitics, to transparency as performance. She writes persuasively of security as theatre, or as she puts it pithily, "a cultural performance of risk", demanded both by those in authority and their institutions, and their subjects. It couldn't be any other way: without complicity on the part of the consumer, security simply couldn't be enacted in the way that it is." — Richard J. Williams, Times Higher Education

"Hall’s sharp eye for visuality, combined with this book’s innovative methodology—which cuts across and between different sites, historical moments, and cultural practices in order to tell a compelling story about securitization, ideology, and risk in the contemporary US—makes the book an important read for cultural studies and communication studies scholars at large." — Bryanne Young, Text and Performance Quarterly

"What this book does excellently is build a picture of the disciplinary power of airport security through a myriad of media texts: this is a book that will appeal to a wide range of scholars, from those in critical surveillance studies to theorists of visual culture, from those interested in the continued relevance of Michel Foucault’s concept of biopolitics to critics of contemporary formations of the neoliberal society, and from scholars in mobility studies to those specifically interested in the space of the airport." — Justine Shih Pearson, TDR: The Drama Review

"Rachel Hall's study of the performance of surveillance, transparency, and screening at airports offers acute perceptions about the cultural impact of the TSA's screening practices, and her notion of transparency has both immediate political implications and lasting explanatory power. Current debates over surveillance and demands for transparency make this book important and incredibly prescient."  — Diana Taylor, author of Performance

"In this compelling study of the politics and culture of airport security, Rachel Hall brings into sharp focus the cultural performances of risk management enacted within and beyond the post-9/11 passenger screening process. Having nothing to hide and proving it by presenting oneself as perpetually prepared for inspection has become the default stance of the modern mobile subject, whether she’s passing through airport security, uploading vacation photos to her social media site, or making a hands-free call from her car. For readers wanting a clearer picture of where the 'war on terror' has taken us, Hall’s book is well worth the ride." — Kelly A. Gates, author of Our Biometric Future: Facial Recognition Technology and the Culture of Surveillance


Availability: In stock
Price: $25.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Rachel Hall is Associate Professor of Communication Studies at Louisiana State University, and the author of Wanted: The Outlaw in American Visual Culture.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  xi

Introduction. Rethinking Asymmetrical Transparency: Risk Management, the Aesthetics of Transparency, and the Global Politics of Mobility  1

1. The Art of Performing Consumer and Suspect: Transparency Chic as a Model of Privileged, Securitized Modernity  25

2. Opacity Effects: The Performance and Documentation of Terrorist Embodiment  57

3. Transparency Effects: The Implementation of Full-Body and Biometic Scanners at US Airports  77

4. How to Perform Voluntary Transparency More Efficiently: Airport Security Pedagogy in the Post-9/11 Era  109

5. Performing Involuntary Transparency: The TSA's Turn to Behavior Detection  131

Conclusion. Transparency Beyond US Airports: International Airports, "Flying" Checkpoints, Controlled-Tone Zones, and Lateral Behavior Detection  157

Notes  179

Bibliography  205

Index  219
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5960-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5939-5
Publicity material