Review of Savage Frontier: Making News and Security on the Argentine Border by Ieva Jusionyte (University of California Press, 2015).
And the tribes living in these gorges are savages/their god is freedom, their law is war.
- Lermontov, from the poem ‘Izmail Bei’ (1832)
The quote describes the border between Russia and the Caucasus, the imperial borderline between civilization and savagery. After my own ethnography of the Caucasus, I felt a strange familiarity with the ‘Triple Frontier’―the border zone among Argentina, Paraguay, and Brazil―despite the geographical and historical differences. Although at first the rhetoric of globalisation stressed deterritorialisation, free movement, and mobility, it soon became clear that surveillance and monitoring, along with other technologies and discourses of security, were at the epicentre of this economic and socio-political global landscape through new processes: the delocalisation and transnationalisation of borders. In this context, borders turned more to a state of borderli-ness, a term coined by Sarah Green in order to describe a feeling of being at borders than a spatial landmark.Ieva Jusionyte’s Savage Frontier contributes to this understanding of borders as it examines one border area as a central part of local, regional, national, and global discourses of security. Her focus is the constant challenge of legality and illegality in media stories produced in the representations of the Triple Frontier as a danger zone of human trafficking, smuggling, and Islamic terrorism due to the Muslim minorities (from Syria, Palestine, and Lebanon) living there. On another level, Jusionyte’s study is a significant contribution to the ethnography of media, exploring the borders between investigative journalism and anthropology as different but connected genres of knowledge production.
The book’s first chapter discusses the ways journalism and anthropology develop in crisscrossing paths. Based on extensive fieldwork in Iguazú, Argentina, and personal immersion in both roles, Jusionyte is best situated for unraveling the similarities and differences between the two fields. Exploring the borders of silence and visibility in the search of news and building intimacy in the field, she brings to the surface how security discourses and practices are part of everyday relationship-building and learning to live at borders.
Chapter 2 is a historical account of how the Triple Frontier border area was reported in the news since its colonisation by Spain. The themes of civilization versus barbarism, security and order, violence and permeable borders, become dominant tropes in media representations of the area resulting in the effacing of its social and cultural diversity. In this way, media narratives supplement the political homogenisation enforced by government policies resulting in ‘optical governance’ (p. 65). At the same time, Jusionyte’s ethnography points to the incompleteness of this project of homogenisation allowing local journalists to frame local issues within the nationally recognized tropes in order to pressure for political action.
In Chapter 3, Jusionyte discusses the issue of scale by the examining the ways in which the Triple Frontier becomes relevant to discourses of terrorism; that is, how ‘global narratives’ are refashioned in local media in order to ‘fit local situations’ (p. 104) of violence and border control. In this context, addressing the imagined insecurity of the border zones is an everyday project which is tested against local fears and anxieties about ‘urban crime and state violence’ (p. 131).
Chapter 4 untangles how local journalists and the community interpret and negotiate criminality and insecurity. This common knowledge generates social intimacy, which turns reporting the news about crime into a daily renegotiation of community understanding and shared moral values. Bridging the boundary of silence could have immediate effects on the journalists’ family and work. As a result, security is performed on a micro-scale and in this way, local knowledge is tested on a daily basis, challenging the borders of insider and outsider.
Chapter 5 continues this discussion between legality and illegality by tracing the boundary between ‘on’ and ‘off’ the record. Comparing national and local reports regarding commercial border trade, the chapter explores how local journalists use common sense in order to decide what will become news information and what won’t be disclosed. Their decisions stem from their own experiences of their border community’s dependency on the alternative informal economy developed in response to structural inequalities due to chronic state neglect. In this framework, local moralities and interpretations of the meaning of legality could be easily distinguished from national and global ones.
Chapter 6 is the most personal since it discusses the production of a TV programme based on investigative journalism which tried to dig into hot local topics, such as illegal adoptions, among other themes. The producers―Jusionyte herself and a local reporter―attempted to advance both the plurality of voices and the ‘silences’ connected to each topic. The production of this programme tested professional ethics and social tolerance, but also the boundaries of journalism and ethnography, their premises, practices, audiences, and commitments, thereby revealing the processes of de/constructing security narratives at local contexts and also how ethnography can further the understanding of il/legality.
The ultimate goal of Savage Frontier is to contribute to the ethnography of the latter by drawing attention to what the categories of legality and illegality mean and how they are mediated by media reports. Their boundaries and transgressions are often connected to faulty government practices which turn borders to a national and global security threat. Unpacking the ways in which certain information becomes news and enters public knowledge while others remain silenced and invisible, helps advance the everyday de/construction of borderlines, not only between public secrecy and knowledge but also between journalism and anthropology. Jusionyte’s ethnography is rich and open to furthering the discussion of these issues, not fearing to present the problematic aspects of both fieldwork and journalism. As a result, the book would be of interest to both migration scholars and border theorists, but also to journalism students.
What is missing, or what could complement, Jusionyte’s ethnography is a comparison of how the Triple Frontier is represented by Argentina’s neighbours, Brazil and Paraguay, and their borderlands’ populations. I would also have appreciated further discussion of security discourses within new and social media, especially those that express minority voices living at the borders. Nonetheless, Savage Frontiers is an interesting book and enjoyable to read.
How to cite this blog post (Harvard style):
Sideri, E. (2015) Book Review: Savage Frontier: Making News and Security on the Argentine Border. Available at: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/research-subject-groups/centre-criminology/centreborder-criminologies/blog/2015/09/book-review-2 (Accessed [date]).