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Adam Fish, Reader, Department of Sociology, Lancaster University

Do drones matter?

What is the civic drone, what does it do, and what are its consequences? The answer is: the drone witnesses the transformations of the earth and its inhabitants—including humans—and intervenes in nature itself. This talk will discuss drone methodologies from over four years of creative and ethnographic investigations with over 70 drone entrepreneurs, humanitarians, activists, and scientists on four continents to examine who is given the rights to profit, witness, program, and care from the atmosphere. Are the ecological, economic, scientific, and emergency applications of the drone equally distributed around the world? Or will they be consolidated by major technology companies in the West such as Amazon’s and Google’s delivery drones, Facebook’s internet drones, the Chinese company DJI—who has already cornered 80% of the drone market—and others who are “privatising” the atmosphere? To answer these questions, we will discuss drone methodologies including using drones above volcanoes and coral reefs in Indonesia, wild elephant herds in Sri Lanka, and orca pods in the Puget Sound. Bringing together technofeminist theory from anthropology and STS a new theory is developed—drone justice—about the entanglements of atmospheric technologies and environments in acts of profiting, witnessing, caring, and programming. Withering coral reefs, palm plantations, biologists, activists, carbon dioxide belching volcanoes, trash eating elephants, carbonised air, and hot and acidified oceans—as seen through the drone sensors—this is the multi-species entanglement of drone justice. Justice drones bear witness not only to earthly destruction and inequities, but also to the future of resistance. Drone justice rejects oppression while documenting the complex forces of oppression. Drones for justice bear witness to the living, dead, dying, and being born in the Anthropocene.

Adam Fish is cultural anthropologist, video producer, and senior lecturer in the Sociology Department at Lancaster University who investigates power in cultures of digital production. He is an interdisciplinary scholar who works across social science, computer engineering, and visual arts. He employs ethnographic, participatory, and creative methods to explore how power is harnessed and challenged in relationship to labour and activism with digital technologies. Using theories from political economy, new materialism, and science and technology studies, he examines digital industries and digital activists working networked technologies: television, video, the internet, and newer platforms such as drones and the internet of things. His co-authored book Hacker States (MIT Press, 2019, with Luca Follis) is about how state hacking impacts democracy. His book Technoliberalism (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017) describes his ethnographic research on the politics of internet and television convergence in Hollywood and Silicon Valley. His co-authored book After the Internet (Polity, 2017, with Ramesh Srinivasan) reimagines the internet from the perspective of grassroots activists, citizens, and hackers on the margins of political and economic power.

This open lecture is co-arranged by the Department of Social Anthropology and the Forum for Asian Studies, Stockholm University.