During February 7-8 2020 we ran the Aesthetics of Drone Warfare conference, hosted by the University of Sheffield. Our delegates presented two days of stunning research on drones and how we might use aesthetics – in its broadest definition – to understand them. A central aim of the conference was to unite researchers from multiple disciplines, in order to consider our theme as comprehensively as possible, and not solely academically. Our delegates represented many countries and institutions from around the world, and came from disciplines as diverse as law, art history, international relations, geography, and English literature.
Our first day began with a workshop by Chris Cole, Dr Joanna Frew and Dr Peter Burt of Drone Wars UK, an NGO working towards a goal of stopping the use of armed drones. The workshop introduced key facts and themes about drone warfare, establishing the excellent calibre of research that each conference paper upheld throughout the event. The topics of our talks ranged from the representation of military drones in popular culture, including television, art, theatre and literary fiction; the use of miniature drones in medicine; the intersection of drones and gender politics; the language used by civil and military drone operators; and the contested legality and ethics of drone warfare.
These talks were presented alongside two fantastic keynote lectures by Professor Derek Gregory and Dr Antoine Bousquet. Professor Gregory delivered a forensic analysis of a 2010 American drone strike that killed 23 civilians in Afghanistan–an event at the heart of Sonia Kennebeck’s documentary National Bird, which we screened late last year. Dr Bousquet traced drone warfare’s ‘scopic regime’ back to Renaissance perspectivalism to illuminate the way vision and violence have been intertwined for centuries. Their diverse research on drones exemplified the relevance and significance of this work to researchers working across a wide range of fields and disciplines. Recordings of their keynote presentations are below.
We are honoured to have been able to bring together a brilliant group of scholars and researchers, whose time and energy we have great appreciation for. The event signalled the continued critical importance of interdisciplinary work in the field of war and aesthetics, the landscape of which is ever-changing and remains relevant to us all.