Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Paper Proposal: Mapping the Unmanned

I would like to focus my final paper on the use of military drones by the US and the recent call for transparency regarding the US drone program.
            While drones are major component of US military and surveillance activity and have been increasingly present in the news, my interest in this topic was peaked by a recent tumblr called “Dronestagram.” Set up by a London artist, the site shows satellite photographs of reported drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen. The site exists alone as a tumblr and visitors can choose to follow the feed via Instagram or Twitter. The photos are put through a filter like that on Instagram; the colors are washed out, the result is a vintage-look, a hint of nostalgia. The photos are an attempt to localize, visualize, map sites of attack by drones. Is the affect of an Instagram filter the only way we can access the dehumanized drone activity?
            I would like to investigate the interactions between the global and local when it comes to drones. The drones, while physically and mentally distant from America and its citizens, exist very much within the local realm in the target areas, both when the drone makes actual—often fatal—contact with the earth, and as a constant threat to villages who are haunted by the prospect of an attack. On the launch side, however, there not only are the drones hard to conceptualize by the everyday American citizen, the drone program is not even officially recognized by the Obama administration. How does this lack of transparency complicate America’s claim to democracy, and to the spread of democracy in the very nations the drones target? There has recently been a push for transparency regarding US drone use, including a special investigative report by the UN to determine if US drone use constitutes war crimes. I look to Terranova and Rancière to think through what the demand for and lack of transparency and accountability means for democracy within such a network of, not just communication, but attack.
            I will use Appadurai’s vocabulary of scapes to try to explore the different contexts in which a drone has effect and the disjunctures between the different realms in which drones move (as products in a finanscape, technological advances in a technoscape, etc). Appadurai’s claims “this is a world in which both points of departure and points of arrival are in cultural flux, and thus the search for steady points of reference…can be very different” (18). Investigative reports such as the Stanford/NYU “Living Under Drones” and efforts such Dronestagram seek to propose those points. Using Parks’s discussion of satellite images, I hope to look at not just the landscapes of images as in mediascapes and ideoscapes, but images of landscapes in attempts at global mapping. There is an interesting tension between surveillance drones and attack drones. The photos on dronestagram, as satellite photos taken from above, mirror the view from a surveillance drone, but they are attempts at visualizing sites of attack, providing information on fatalities and specific location within the caption.
            How can drone strikes be considered an example of the virtual? A drone emerges as if from nowhere, forever changing the space that it hits and the people within it. How do drones intersect many different scapes in their bridging of the global and the local? What can we pull from these gaps in an attempt to understand the use of these entities that seem remote[-controlled], ubiquitous, invisible, and yet capable of extreme physical destruction on the local level, and undeniably important effects within the realm of global politics and warfare?

No comments: