Alice Geist

alice geist

DPhil Student

St John's College


Identification documents play a pivotal role in navigating current-day, globalized life. Passports, in particular, work to enable or restrict individual mobility, and by extension facilitate or limit free movement and self-realization. Tracing passports’ workings from their supra-national regulation to their specific configuration in the German/EU context, my research is thus a foray into comprehending the logic and socio-political consequences of such documentary potency: 

In the first instance I am interested in the bureaucratic and technological ideals as well as political objectives informing the selection and configuration of personal identity markers in documents. Understanding the process of documenting identity as a productive project, through which the citizen as a particular bureaucratic persona comes into being, I focus on the specific transformations of human identities and bodies enacted through standardization, classification, inscription and biometrics in passports. In the second instance, I ask what the ramifications of these processes are for people as they shape the ‘border encounter’, conditioning how travellers come to be known and how identities come to be performed as well as read in the public realm. Methodologically, I aim to follow a multi-sited perspective, which reflects that passports emerge at the intersection of competing authorities and interests: by working with bureaucrats as well as practitioners active in identity and mobility management along the chain of passports’ inception, manufacture and usage, I intend to map the entangled network of individual and institutional agents involved. Ultimately, my research then also attempts to advance into unpacking notions of uncertainty/security and ambiguity/trust, as they define public and professional discourses on mobility, migration and identification today. 

General fields of interest:

archives, anthropology of the body and embodiment, bureaucracy, anthropology of documents and documentation, corporate ethnography, material culture studies, identity and identification, STS, visual anthropology