‘Airport Emergency: Scrambling the Codes of Conduct’

Damian O’Doherty – University of Manchester Business School

Glasgow Airport car explosion


The airport is a site where the sciences of protection are being advanced almost hegemonically. They are deployed in the name of safe living. The airport is concerned with national citizenship, with transition, and is a non-place. The airport space is highly coded. For instance, objects are coded differently depending on where they are. In the departures terminal, space is striated. People become different things in different places. People are coded differently according to their tickets. Classifications apply to planes as well. So many calculations and coding have to occur. They are always incomplete. The system must juggle too much.

23 Sept 2005 in Terminal 1, something was happening. The terminal was closed because someone threw a bag over the fence. In the flight control, the incident was discussed by traffic controller. It on ITV news. Usual managerial resources found themselves compromised in time. The normal means were impeding flow. During the event, space seems to shape shift. Suddenly scale and movement change. The coffee shop cannot cope. Crowds build up at seemingly arbitrary points.

The design of airports is disorienting, but this becomes more intensified during the event. It starts to feel like a mouse-trap. The dark control room now longer seems to be very safe. Its occupants don’t know what it means to be inside. They are subject to confusion and disarray. Certain objects – walkie-talkies, uniforms – take on new authority. Even cleaners are construed as figures of authority. Over time, a narrative emerges. Things start to resume their usual appearance, and time-space is restored.

In a later security crisis, the relation between codes and conduct exist in a mutual and perverse relationships. It opens up continually new forms of insecurity. The complexity of exchange is hidden behind everyday routine. In the emergency, we see that happening again.

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