Experiments with Truth: Analysis

How to think about drones

It’s not unusual to hear the debate on targeted killings reduced to whether one is “for” or “against” drones. But such a reductive dichotomy over a technology makes little sense and conflates a vortex of issues from executive authority, secrecy, civil liberties, constitutionality and militarism to privacy and personhood. So, what are we really talking about when we talk about drones?

Clearly, we’re not just talking about the technology of unmanned flying machines. The fundamental questions concerning the use of drones are about more than this. They are about who can be killed by the U.S. government, where, with what justification and with who else knowing. They are about what activities can be watched by whom and from which skies. They are stories about citizenship and foreignness, property and privacy; they tell of unidentified robots flying near JFK airport and human meat hanging from trees in Southern Yemen.

In short, when we talk about drones we are talking about complex configurations and arrangements of bodies, spaces, objects and subjects. Instead of embracing a knee-jerk polemic that either celebrates or condemns drones, it’s important to parse out some of the issues that drone technology has brought to the fore. Then we can ask how it is that drone technology shapes and determines these narratives.

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