The Drone Interface: A Relational Study of U.S. Drone Violence in Afghanistan

In the mediated, high technology war of the digital age, public discourses surrounding war often render invisible or de-humanise the humans who are most affected. This project asks, ‘what are humans’ lived experiences of drone warfare?’. It seeks to analyse how drone warfare emotionally, psychologically and physiologically affects people on both sides of the drone interface.  

Alex Edney 600x300 crop.jpg

This research project seeks to answer the empirical question: ‘what are humans’ lived experiences of drone warfare?’. The increasing use of high technology, mediated platforms to wage war has had the effect of obfuscating humans’ affective, emotional and psycho-social experiences of war. It is expedient for US Coalition governments and military organisations to use clinical and scientific language when describing military drone technology, rendering humans invisible in drone warfare. Ironically, many critics of drone warfare have discursively reproduced this de-humanisation in myriad ways, by fetishising drone technology, quantifying civilian suffering, ignoring emotional and psycho-social harms, de-historicising aerial bombardment and surveillance, or focusing their concern on the nation-state (issues of international law and sovereignty) rather than on humans. This project attempts to uncover those human experiences, locating the ‘human’ in digital warfare, while exploring the precariousness of its definition. The project posits the military drone as an affective interface. This new concept – ‘the drone interface’ – allows us to consider the extent to which military drone technology facilitates human–technology interaction and cross-cultural human-to-human interaction, and the affective experiences of such interactions. Current attempts to make sense of unexpected phenomena in drone warfare, such as high rates of emotional distress amongst drone personnel or civilians’ attempts to communicate with their aggressors through drone-cameras, are limited without new concepts. This project contributes to feminist and postcolonial scholarship in the field of international relations, which argues that affectivity, emotions and relationality are significant to world politics.  

Supervisor

Ana Dragojlovic

Selected Outputs

Publications

Edney-Browne, Alex. ‘Embodiment and Affect in a Digital Age: Understanding Mental Illness in Military Drone Personnel’. Krisis: Journal for Contemporary Philosophy 1 (2017): 18‒32.

Presentations

Edney-Browne, Alex. 'The Dystopian Present of Drone Warfare, and Possibilities for Resistance', 'Dystopic Futures and Utopian Possibilities' Identity Research Network interdisciplinary symposium, Swinburne University, Melbourne, 5 May 2018. 

Edney-Browne, Alex. 'The Lived Experiences of High-Technology War', 'Power of Rules and Rule of Power' International Studies Association's 59th Annual Convention, San Francisco, USA, 6 April 2018. 

Edney-Browne, Alex. 'Research in "Dangerous" and "Hostile" Places: Are Anti-Colonial Methods Possible in Conflict Zones?', 'Ethnography in Conflict Areas' Ethnoforum, The University of Melbourne, 9 March 2018. 

Edney-Browne, Alex. 'Targeting the Emotions: Living Under Drone Surveillance and Drone Attack in Afghanistan', 'Ethics and War: Thinking the Practice and Politics of Killing' symposium, The University of Auckland, NZ, 13 October 2017.

Edney-Browne, Alex. 'Targeting the Emotions: the Socio-Psychological Effects of Drone Warfare'. 'The Politics of International Studies in an Age of Crises' 11th Pan-European Conference on International Relations, Barcelona, Spain, 15 September 2017.

Edney-Browne, Alex. '(Inter)facing the "Enemy": Affective Interactions in Drone Warfare'. 'The Politics of International Studies in an Age of Crises' 11th Pan-European Conference on International Relations, Barcelona, Spain, 14 September 2017.

Edney-Browne, Alex. ‘Drone Warfare, and the Militarisation of Australian Higher Education’. Invited speaker at ‘Independent and Peaceful Australia Network’ conference, Melbourne, 9 September 2017.

Edney-Browne, Alex. ‘Living Under Drone Attack and Drone Surveillance’, Bargoonga Nganjin North Fitzroy Library, Melbourne, 6 September 2017.

Edney-Browne, Alex. 'The Drone Interface: Locating the "Human" in Digital Warfare'. 'Technicity, Temporality, Embodiment' 10th International Somatechnics Conference, Byron Bay, Australia, 2 December 2016.

Edney-Browne, Alex. ‘Law’s Mirage: Debating Australia’s Military Drones’. Invited speaker at ‘Regulating Robots: Law, Ethics and Public Policy’ symposium, Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, 7 October 2016.

Edney-Browne, Alex. ‘Australia and Debating the Drone War’. Invited speaker at ‘Independent and Peaceful Australia Network’ conference, Alice Springs, 1 October 2016.

Edney-Browne, Alex, Mirella Dotti, Denny Oetomo, Mike Arnold and Ian Barns. ‘Science Week at the Cathedral: Animals, Humans, Robots’, St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, 17 August 2016.

Edney-Browne, Alex, Lisa Ling and Cian Westmoreland. ‘Talking Pictures – National Bird: In Conversation’. Melbourne International Film Festival, Melbourne, 30 July 2016.

Edney-Browne, Alex, Mark Andrejevic, Richard Tanter, Lisa Ling and Cian Westmoreland. ‘The Human Cost of Drones’. School of Culture and Communication ‘In Conversation’ panel, The University of Melbourne, 27 July 2016.

Edney-Browne, Alex, Peter Hayes, Shahzad Akbar, Lisa Ling and Cian Westmoreland. ‘Drones: Human Hunting’. Invited panel, Splendour in the Grass festival, Byron Bay, 23 July 2016.

Online Media

Interview with Alex Edney-Browne, 'Drones: Waging War at a Distance'. Uncommon Sense Triple R FM, 18 September 2018.

Edney-Browne, Alex, and Tilman Ruff. 'Partnerships Between Universities and Arms Manufacturers Raise Thorny Ethical Questions'. The Conversation, 16 March 2018.

Edney-Browne, Alex, Natasha Mitchell and Rachel Ang (illustrator). ‘What it's Really Like to Live with Drone Warfare’. ABC, Radio National, 22 August 2017.

Edney-Browne, Alex and Lisa Ling. 'Don't Believe the Dangerous Myths of "Drone Warrior"'. Los Angeles Times, 16 July 2017.

Edney-Browne, Alex. '"I Saw Pieces of Bodies": Afghan Civilians Describe Terrorisation by US Drones'Truthout, 1 July 2017.

Dreyfus, Suelette and Alex Edney-Browne. ‘Drone Warfare: Why the Whole Truth Matters’. Pursuit, 26 July 2016.

Edney-Browne, Alex. ‘Like Drone Strikes, Eye in the Sky Is Much Less Accurate Than Claimed’. E-International Relations, 25 May 2016.

Edney-Browne Alex. ‘Imprecise, Automated, Deadly: Why Australia Shouldn't Buy into the Drone War’. New Matilda, 16 March 2016.

Image: Christiaan Colen, CC BY-SA 2.0