DFMI ONLINE MODULES
BY NATHANIEL RIVERS AND CINDY-LOU HOLLAND
Drones are worth deploying and investigating in the context of digital field methods because of what forms of sensing they capacitate and the techniques and technologies they bring together. To think about drones is to think about GPS, light exposure, aerodynamics, frame rates, the dimensionality of property and sovereignty, and battery life. This is less a litany of stuff than it is an ecology of practices that constitute a drone, which it turns shapes its pilot. To pilot a drone is to experience an extension and augmentation of a body’s senses: being elsewhere while still being some place in particular. A drone navigating the skies is both a part of and apart from the pilot: a drone is semi-autonomous.
This semi-autonomy is, to a large extent, part of the drone’s appeal as a sensing platform. Indeed, it makes sense to think of a drone less as a discrete and singular device (i.e., a camera) than a platform for sensing. A pilot doesn’t see with a drone but rather from the drone. The drone itself is loaded with sensors (for instance, the DJI Phantom 4 is equipped with a FlightAutonomy system made up of five vision sensors, dual-band satellite positioning, and ultrasonic rangefinders) that allow it to independently hover in place, follow a requested flight path, and avoid dangerous obstacles.
It is for these reasons that such drones can be taken up quickly by amateurs and professionals alike. The uses to which a drone are put evidences how they capacitate pilots, somethings strangely, even dangerously, but also always inventively, expansively— accumulating sensing practices that also mediate how we can engage the world: sensing is never innocent, never actually remote and distant. Somewhere—there— but differently each time.
This module consists of an annotated reading list, a handout covering the use of drones to conduct field research and produce research products, two exercises engaging the possibility of drones for sensing practices, and two videos performing drone sensing.
- The annotated reading list draws out the uses, features and contexts of drones. The list works through the consequences of drone for our sensing practices and our ethical practices.
- The drone research section offers advice on the choice of drones grounded in the capacities of a particular drone and the goals of a situated researcher.
- The two exercises, “Context Machines” and “Situated Drones,” explore the sensing practices made possible through drones and the impact of drones on a user’s sensorium.
We also include two short videos that perform drone sensing in two, complementary ways. They situate participants in the scene of drone sensing and serve as examples of the practices described in the two exercises.
Participants in this module should come away with a strong sense of how drones can be employed to generate situated knowledge and what sensorial and ethical consequences inhere in such practices.
by Donna Haraway
This primary framing reading reassesses vision as skilled practice and eschews the God’s-eye view.
by Anila Daulatzai and Sahar Ghumkhor
Investigates Western scholarship on drones and its resonances with military applications.
by Michael Richardson
Engages the phenomenon of “drone
vision” and the modes of witnessing it engenders.
by Benjamin Wallace Wells
Explores the multi-faceted uses of drones—military & civilian—and how they change our sensory experiences.
by Tim Maughan
Speculative fictions about drones and how they might be variously folded into daily life both public & private.
by Teju Cole
A collection of tweets pairing famous first lines in literature with news headlines associated with drone warfare.
by Clint Smith
A poem playing with the multiple valences of the name and term “drone.”
by Kathryn Brimblecombe-Fox
A visual artist “exhibits” her paintings inspired by drones and the networked infra-structures of which they are a part.
by Hillary Mushkin
Articulates a practice of artists exploring the “situational awareness” generated through drones.
by Vanessa Swales
Catalogs how individuals use drones to exploit and subvert the law.
by Madiha Tahir
Traces the colonial legacy that shapes America’s drone bombing campaign in Pakistan.
by Aroosa Kanwal
Discusses the use of first-person narratives in terms of the “flesh witnessing” of drone violence.
by Atef Abu Saif
Report covering an on the ground review of the Israeli use of drones in Gaza and consequences for life there.
by John S. Reid
A physicist explains how drones fly and what’s unique about their flight.
by Adam Rothstein
A concise history of drones with special attention to their narratives and aesthetics.
by Grégoire Chamayou
This monograph develops an argument against drone warfare and uses the drone to theorize contemporary politics.