Assistant Professor of Culture and Politics
Unmanning studies the conditions that make contemporary targeted killing through failed projects to build drone aircraft by the United States between 1936 to 1992. These experiments are tied to histories of global control, cybernetics, racism and colonialism. Drone crashes and failures call attention to the significance of human action in making technopolitics that comes to be opposed to “man” and the paradoxes at their basis.
Drone Publics (In Progress)
Drone Publics studies drones designed to deliver medical supplies in Rwanda; unmanned aircraft to track poachers and endangered animals in Kruger National Park in South Africa; and a community mapping project by drones on Zanzibar. It asks: Who do these systems protect? Who do they target? And who benefits? Excavating how personhood, governmentality and postcolonialism are embedded in these projects, the research complicates a simple refashioning of drones "for good." Rather, it situates these apparently novel uses within the military framework that gave it life.
I draw comparisons between the American drone program in the horn of Africa and anti-terrorism laws in Ethiopia to study how technologies and law produce bodies that can be detained, sanctioned and killed by the nation-state. On the one hand, targeted strikes carried out by the US military claim all military-aged males killed are terrorists unless proven otherwise. On the other hand, anti-terrorism laws in Ethiopia label journalists and others attempting to critique the state as terrorists, resulting in their imprisonment and exile.
Debates about today's unmanned systems explain their operation using binary distinctions to delimit "us" and "them" or "human" and "machine." Yet the networked actions of drone aircraft persistently undo these oppositions. I reconsider Donna Haraway's classic 1985 feminist technoscience essay “A Cyborg Manifesto” and ask how drone aircraft fit with and complicate Haraway’s analysis of human and machine relations she identifies as cyborg
I explore the visual culture of experimental drone projects developed during the Cold War through a text and photo essay. Triptychs overlay documentary materials with fabricated scenes to situate drone aircraft in domestic contexts. Cold War drones show mundane, day-to-day uses and test flights associated with mostly failed, experimental weapons systems built in the period. These images complicate the machine-like view of today’s drones and their target selection process, troubling the associations between unmanned aircraft and the War on Terror.
The article examines 5,000 Feet is the Best, a video installation by the artist Omer Fast shown at the 2011 Venice Art Biennale, and the video Drone Vision by artist Trevor Paglen. The artworks respond to the use of unmanned aircraft by the United States in its ongoing War on Terror. I analyze how these pieces represent the aerial view of the drone as a way of seeing shaped by politics and necessarily limited by this perspective. The artworks lay bare racial and national assumptions embedded in drone vision.
This chapter expands on the concept of "interpretative flexibility". to examine how multiple interpretations of a technology unfold historically, illustrating the co-production of technology and cultural context. It studies a World War II assault drone project heralded as an American kamikaze, typically considered a failed effort. Multiple interpretations of the human and its opposite are at work. In World War II, the navy project opposed “humanism” to the assault drone. Today, military and government promote the drone as a more humane form of warfare. What is at stake in these flexible interpretations is not just the drone but who is its human counterpart.