When Identity Slipped off the Body: The Emergence of the U.S. Passport as a Visual Technology


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This article analyzes the development of the passport as a tool to enforce immigration restrictions along U.S. borders in the 1920s. Questions about the effectiveness of the passport were articulated within larger debates about the nature of identity, specifically the relationship of race, whiteness and nationality. Through an analysis of these debates I will ascertain how the passport came to be understood as an accurate and reliable identification document. I argue that these debates about the passport position identification documents as specific “visual technologies” that required the learning of new reading and “looking” practices before they could be recognized as an authoritative way to mediate identity.


Arts and Humanities | Other American Studies | Race, Ethnicity and Post-Colonial Studies

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