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The University of Southampton
Geography and Environmental Science

Drones in the forest: Surveillance technologies and territoriality in everyday biodiversity conservation  Seminar

12:00 - 13:00
1 February 2024
B44 Room 1087 and on Teams

Event details

Geography and Environmental Science Seminar


Unpiloted aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are increasingly used to monitor conservation environments: in forests drones map changes in canopy cover; count wildlife; capture footage to convey to wider publics, and track illegal activities. Such practices raise important political issues. Critically, the potential to survey or document human activities can translate into new kinds of discipline and control in areas already articulated through conflict and/or racialised spatial ordering. Further, scholars of political ecology and (feminist) Science and Technology Studies (STS) have long sought to unsettle ‘the view from above’ and 'the view from nowhere' enabled by technologies like drones,  linked with militaristic uses of aerial technologies. Drones were, after all, developed in contexts of war, and can intensify atmospheres of fear through their very presence, as well as providing a means to collect incriminating evidence of those (purportedly) violating rules. Drones may also participate in establishing racial stereotypes in relation to illegal activities like poaching or illegal timber-cutting, legitimising further rounds of military intervention. My ethnographic work in the Maya Forest, Andean Forest, and Amazon provide evidence of these dynamics, while also opening out onto important alternative perspectives. Drones are also being used by rural and Indigenous communities to constitute authority and expertise, and to defend territorial rights. Some Indigenous communities articulate drones in these contexts in relation to bird and insect companions, linking their surveillance capacities with situated ways of more-than-human knowing and being. Further, dialogues with Indigenous practitioners of ‘non-modern’ aerial technologies (eg shamanistic use of plant-guides; constructing earthworks for a ‘gods’ eye view’) propose modes of knowing forest worlds from above (and from the side, from all sides) that are grounded in invitations for care, not military domination. Through ethnographic vignettes I explore the politics and ethics of the aerial view, posing the question: is it possible to decolonise a drone?

Speaker Information

Dr Naomi Millner, Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol

Bio: Dr Naomi Millner is a human geographer who works on the politics of knowledge surrounding approaches to environmental conservation, access to food, and citizenship claims. Drawing on critical political ecology perspectives, feminist and post-colonial/decolonial theories, She studies the spatial claims made by social movements and work to show diverse cultures of knowledge can help us understand environmental and political conflicts. Dr Millner draws strongly on participative methodologies and critical pedagogies in her work.

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