Promises made to be broken: Performance and performativity in digital vaccine and immunity certification

Stefania Milan, Michael Veale, Linnet Taylor, Seda Gürses

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Digital vaccination certification involves making many promises, few of which can realistically be kept. In this paper, we demonstrate how this phenomenon constitutes various forms of theatre - immunity theatre, border theatre, behavioural theatre and equality theatre - doing so by drawing on perspectives from technology regulation, migration studies and critical geopolitics. Technological theatre and political theatre often serve valid functions, but these forms are problematic for several reasons. First, they involve real-world infrastructures that, while unlikely to accomplish the task at hand, will nevertheless last a long time and be repurposed. They therefore constitute governance by data infrastructure, diverting action and control away from elected legislators to for-profit contractors. Second, vaccine certification effectively legitimises inequalities between countries and people by formalising ways to distinguish between the vaccinated and non-vaccinated and to exclude the latter, thus reinforcing both mobility and connectivity divides. It serves as a way to (further) close borders and to regulate, through code and infrastructure, access to public goods such as employment and public space. Finally, the project of certification displaces a more important action, namely addressing the radical inequality in countries' ability to combat the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)382-392
Number of pages11
JournalEuropean Journal of Risk Regulation
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021




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