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Open access

Barak Kalir

Methodological accounts often deliberately omit the role that luck plays in getting access to challenging research sites. Indeed, it sounds unprofessional and feels unsatisfying to attribute luck to our work. ‘I hope to get lucky’ will not go down well with most supervisors or as part of any grant proposal. We should, however, consider that luck literally stands for the probability that certain events might take place under certain circumstances. Reflecting on our luck can therefore help us to expound important features that structure the probability of getting access. In my case, getting access to the Spanish state deportation regime could never be anticipated or secured simply in line with the importance of my project or my academic credentials. Obtaining formal approval from the Spanish authorities proved to be impossible, but I eventually achieved access in a messy way that involved many informal interactions and much uncertainty. Accounting for my months‐long attempts, I show how luck sensitised me to officials’ ample discretionary power and pervasive sense of impunity in producing an image of ‘the state’ as unpredictable and opaque. This image induced the strong sensation that my fieldwork crucially depended on the whims of particular officials.

Open access

Barak Kalir, Christin Achermann, and Damian Rosset

Contributors to this special issue realised that reflecting on experiences of getting access (or not) can tell us something important about the institutions we aimed to study and, more broadly, about the migration control field. Put differently, attempts at approaching and approximating state actors within a charged field exposed us to some of its most fundamental organising principles. We have, therefore, set ourselves the task in this issue of SA/AS to ask and answer the following question: What do attempts at studying migration control tell us about the state? Our exercise is, thus, squarely set as an attempt to intervene in a burgeoning debate around the ways in which the ‘anthropology of the state’ can develop. Both the issues at stake – the management of undesired others – and the field in which we conduct our studies, migration control administrations, are indeed changing to become acutely central to the governing of our societies. By gathering findings from different research projects across Europe, this special issue offers a comparative perspective on some of the most salient features of the migration control field from the eyes of ethnographic researchers in search of access.