Unmanned geographies: Drone visions and visions of the drone
Jackman, Anna Hamilton
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
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This thesis has been embargoed for a period of 18 months because the author wishes to publish papers using material that is substantially drawn from the thesis.
This thesis approaches the study of the (aerial) military and non-military drone through an examination of the communities that variously compel and propel it into action: that culturally constitute it. Employing the term ‘proponent communities’, this thesis approaches the drone through an empiric-led exploration of such actors, those including: manufacturers, industry, regulators, governments, militaries, trade associations and end users. These proponent communities are accessed through fieldwork at three central sites, namely military and non-military tradeshows, military conferences, and through the completion of numerous industry educational courses. Whilst by no means a homogenous group, such communities remain important in crafting, composing, (re)producing and circulating both technical and cultural knowledges of the drone. In approaching the drone’s cultural constitution, the thesis pursues two distinct analytic foci. First, in response to the tendency of extant scholarship to focus upon what the functioning drone does and its implications, thus treating it like a ‘black box’, the thesis ‘opens’ the drone through an exploration of particular proponent cultures through which it is instituted. Examining both the role of military drone operators and the employment of drones with multi-sensory payloads in emergency service settings, over two chapters the thesis explores the cultures through which the drone comes to function in framing that below it. Second, the thesis explores a series of mechanisms through which the drone is articulated, visualized and otherwise legitimated as a tool, asset, and commodity within military and non-military drone tradeshows. In approaching the drone at the tradeshow, the thesis expands extant analyses of the drone by considering its cultural constitution at such hitherto unexamined sites of consumption. In approaching the cultural constitution of the drone through these two strands of investigation the thesis offers three contributions. First, in working within a research context punctuated with access limitations, the thesis opens up different windows of access at which drone proponent communities gather, form, and (re)compose drone knowledges. Second, in approaching the drone at sites in which it is instituted and traded, the thesis engages with both proponent knowledges of employment, and articulations of expectation and potential therein. It demonstrates that such an engagement facilitates the challenging of several dominant and entrenched narratives surrounding the drone, variously revealing them as inadequate, fractured, or fantastical. Third, whilst the main contribution of this thesis is to geographies, and the wider interdisciplinary field, of drone scholarship, the thesis argues for, and demonstrates the value of, engaging with alternative geographical literatures in developing its argumentation. In situating the drone within such wider discussions and landscapes the thesis thus productively develops distinct frameworks through which to conceptually and empirically engage with the drone.
Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
PhD in Geography