Drone Imaginaries and society


Kathrin Maurer (Phd, Dr. Phil)
Associate Professor of German Studies

Keynote Speaker: 

Derek Gregory,  Peter Wall Distinguished Professor at Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies and Department of Geography at the University of British Columbia.


See and listen to the keynote 'Sweet target, sweet child. Aerial violence and the imaginaries of  remote warfare':



Sweet Target, Sweet Child: Aerial Violence and the Imaginaries of Remote Warfare

Derek Gregory (Keynote)In February 2010 a US air strike on three vehicles in Uruzgan province, Afghanistan in support of USand allied ground forces caused multiple civilian casualties. The attack was the direct result of surveillancecarried out by a Predator drone, and a US Army investigation into the incident criticised the flightcrew for persistently misinterpreting the full-motion video feeds from the remotely operated aircraft.This has become the signature strike for critics of remote warfare, yet they have all relied solely on atranscript of communications between US Special Forces in the vicinity, the drone crew at Creech AirForce Base in Nevada, and the helicopter pilots who executed the strike. But an examination of theinterviews carried out by the investigation team reveals a more complicated – and in some respectseven more disturbing – picture. This presentation uses those transcripts to brings other actors intothe frame, pursues the narrative beyond the strike itself, and raises a series of questions about civiliancasualties. During the post-strike examination of the site the casualties were rendered as (still) suspiciousbodies and, as they were evacuated to military hospitals, as inventories of injuries. Drawingon Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary film ”National Bird” I also track the dead as they are returned totheir villages and the survivors as they struggle with rehabilitation: both provide vivid illustrations of theembodied nature of nominally remote warfare and of the violent bioconvergence that lies on the otherside of the screen.


Derek Gregory is Peter Wall Distinguished Professor and Professor of Geography at the Universityof British Columbia at Vancouver. His research addresses the ways in which war has (and has not)changed over the last 100 years. He is completing a new book, ”Reach from the Sky: Aerial Violenceand the Everywhere War”, which is a critical investigation of bombing from before the First World Warthrough to the contemporary use of drones in the world’s borderlands as a central vector of later modernwar. His current research focuses on casualty evacuation (military and civilian) from war zones; one ofits central concerns is the figuration of the wounded body and its multiple apprehensions as it movesthrough the evacuation chain. The two projects have collided in another stream of work on the bombingof hospitals and medical facilities in Afghanistan, Syria and too many other theatres of war. He alsohas a keen interest in the experimental use of the performing and visual arts in rendering the violenceof modern war.


Drones are in the air. The production of civilian drones for rescue, transport, and leisure activity is booming. The Danish government, for example, proclaimed civilian drones a national strategy in 2016. Accordingly, many research institutions as well as the industry focus on the development, usage, and promotion of drone technology. These efforts often prioritize commercialization and engineering as well as setting-up UAV (Unmanned Arial Vehicle) test centers. As a result, urgent questions regarding how drone technology impacts our identity as humans as well as their effects on how we envision the human society are frequently underexposed in these initiatives.

Our conference aims to change this perspective. By investigating cultural representations of civilian and military drones in visual arts, film, and literature, we intend to shed light on drone technology from a humanities’ point of view. This aesthetic “drone imaginary” forms not only the empirical material of our discussions but also a prism of knowledge which provides new insights into the meaning of drone technology for society today.


Several artists, authors, film makers, and thinkers have already engaged in this drone imaginary. While some of these inquiries provide critical reflection on contemporary and future drone technologies – for instance issues such as privacy, surveillance, automation, and security – others allow for alternative ways of seeing and communicating as well as creative re-imagination of new ways of organizing human communities. The goal of the conference is to bring together these different aesthetic imaginaries to better understand the role of drone technologies in contemporary and future societies.


The focus points of the conference are: 

  • Aesthetic drone imaginaries: Which images, metaphors, ethics, emotions and affects are associated to drones through their representation in art, fiction and popular culture? 
  • Drone technology and its implications for society: How do drones change our daily routines and push the balance between publicity and privacy
  • Historical perspective on drones: In what way do drone imaginaries allow for a counter-memory that can challenge, for instance, the military implementation of drones?
  • Drones as vulnerability: Do drones make societies more resilient or more fragile, and are societies getting overly dependent on advanced technologies?
  • Utopian or dystopian drone imaginaries: What dream or nightmare scenarios are provided by drone fiction and how do they allow for a (re)imagining of future societies?
  • Drones and remote sensing: In what way do drones mark a radical new way of seeing and sensing by their remotely vertical gaze and operative images?
  • Drone warfare: Do drones mark a continuation or rupture of the way we understand war and conflict, and how do they change the military imaginary?

Conference is sponsored by the Drone Network (Danish Research Council) and Institute for the Study of Culture at the University of Southern Denmark

Official poster

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Conference is free of charge, but you have to register

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Conference program

The daily program for the conference: Drones Imaginaries and society

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Network for Research on Drones and Aesthetics

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