Update: unfortunately I’ve had to withdraw from this event.
Here’s the abstract for my keynote lecture to the Power and Space in the Drone Age conference, 27-28 August 2015, Université de Neuchâtel:
Terrain, Volume, Drones
This paper is part of a wider, ongoing project trying to re-conceptualize geopolitics in more material, elemental terms: what might be called the geophysics of geopolitics. With that in mind, I have begun to retrace the steps I took in theorizing territory. In a 2010 paper, which became the introduction to my 2013 book The Birth of Territory, I tried to think how land and terrain were necessary, but not sufficient, for grasping territory. I discussed land in terms of political-economic relations, and terrain in terms of political-strategic ones. But both these terms, ‘land’ and ‘terrain’, require more careful work. As one way into the second, I have begun thinking about the question of ‘volume’, as a way to connect up work done on verticality and aerial politics with studies of depth, the subterranean and the sub-marine.
Terrain, by its very nature, helps us to break from the flat, surface, areal sense of much of political geography. In this political spaces and territories are somewhat imprisoned within a cartographic imagination, with representations of complex landscapes reduced to a plane, where shapes meet, separated by a line, a border. Yet maps have long tried to grapple with how to represent height and depth on their (usually) two-dimensional surface. Contour lines or relief shading are two of the more common, but as techniques develop, different possibilities emerge.
In this paper I try to continue this work, thinking especially how drones add to the story in two registers. First, how do military drone technologies require an awareness of terrain for flight paths, surveillance and targeting? Second, how do civilian and military uses of remote-sensing technologies help to unpack the complexities of terrain? In both registers the geophysical and the geopolitical are entangled, and drones provide an intriguing lens for thinking through these complexities.