Learning to Look Down: The Swiss « Drone Academy » and the Making of the Contemporary Politics of Visibility

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 10:30
Oral Presentation
Francisco KLAUSER, University of Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Camera-fitted drones are now easily affordable to the public. The resulting proliferation of the vertical gaze breaks off the longstanding privilege of the powerful to look down on the ground from above, spanning from the ancient emperors’ city towers to the modern state’s satellites. Thus civil drones add a new chapter to the long history of the top-down perspective, adopted to understand, order, control and act on space.

Connecting with this basic problematic, the paper asks this simple question: How do civil drone users learn how to look down? Put differently, what are the mechanisms and forces that shape the societal discovery of the vertical gaze? These questions are based on the assumption that watching is not a neutral act or pre-given ability, but a social practice that is mediated through specific understandings of both the tools and objects of watching.

To address this problematic, the presentation draws upon a case study relating to the first Swiss « drone academy », which offers courses in drone piloting across a range of Swiss cities. Hereby, the drone academy is approached as a key site in the societal formation and transmission of the knowledges and practices related to the technology’s use. Anchored in an ANT line of thinking, my purpose is to unpack the chain of mediations through which relevant actors, ideas and objects connect and interact in the academy, and to explore how these assemblages produce specific forms and logics of watching. Importantly, this question will also be re-instituted as part of a broader problematic of the processes and relationships behind the changing regimes of visibility that characterise the present-day world of big data.