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The Life and Death of Targeting, Protection and Development

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What is the public life of technology?

Drone warfare is imagined as a feedback loop between machine and enemy. Its icon is a Predator aircraft over an empty desert. Yet, military drone missions are replete with people and their supposed aim is not the targeted enemy but national protection. Drone Publics studies how the frameworks of targeting and protection are refashioned by unmanned aircraft for humanitarianism, wildlife management and development on the African continent. It uses these cases to reconsider debates on the role of media and technology in shaping the public sphere and the challenge of everyday militarism to collective life.


Case A: Making a Collective? – Droneports, Medical Delivery and Technological Futures

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A Silicon Valley start-up is testing their unmanned systems for blood delivery in Rwanda. Droneports are presented as a solution to development, allowing countries to "leapfrog" roads with unmanned aircraft.


The government has championed the project as an example of innovative, tech-driven development characterizing the country's post-genocide progress, despite the reality that the majority of on-site drone deliveries were already accessible by road.

Before test flights in Rwanda, however, the project appeared as a digital rendering and at the Venice Architecture Biennale, raising the question: Who are these efforts for?

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Case B: Providing Protection? – South African Drones for Wildlife Management and Policing

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Promoted by government investments in technology, this project uses drones to detect poachers in South Africa. So far, success has been uncertain: traditional methods like tracking dogs still yield better results, and human rights groups have questioned the project. The history of entanglements between drone technologies and apartheid raises questions not just about privacy, but also the policing of populations and racialized forms of violence.

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Case C: Mapping Uneven Networks, Scales and Tensions in Zanzibar

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Drone pilots from Zanzibar are producing a high-resolution aerial map of the island. Funded by international donors and government partners, the collaboration aims to empower individuals through access to information and proposes drones as a “democratizing” technology. Technological failure, project recruitment and ongoing debates among governmental officials about the “openness” of the information collected illustrate how the map remains tied to the exercise of governmentality and post-colonial modes of control.

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